* Palestinians trapped in rising poverty, despair, ICRC says
* Says Israel’s import restrictions crippling reconstruction
* Gaza’s water and sanitation system on brink of collapse
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, June 29 (Reuters) - Six months after Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip, 1.5 million Palestinians remain trapped in rising poverty, unable to rebuild their lives, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Monday.
Stringent import restrictions imposed by Israel are crippling reconstruction efforts by donors who have pledged $4.5 billion, it said. Basic medicines are in short supply and the water and sanitation system is on the brink of collapse.
The humanitarian agency called on Israeli authorities to lift the restrictions and allow spare parts, water pipes and building materials into the Hamas-ruled coastal territory devastated by the Dec. 27-Jan. 18 offensive.
"Gaza neighbourhoods particularly hard hit by the Israeli strikes will continue to look like the epicentre of a massive earthquake unless vast quantities of cement, steel and other building materials are allowed into the territory for reconstruction," the ICRC said in a report.
Israeli forces bombed and then invaded Gaza to root out militants firing rockets into southern Israel. According to a Palestinian rights group, 1,417 people including 926 civilians were killed, along with 10 Israeli soldiers and 3 civilians.
Many Gazans are "sliding ever deeper into despair", with thousands whose homes and belongings were destroyed still lacking adequate shelter, the Geneva-based ICRC said.
Hospitals are run down, with much of their equipment unreliable and in need of repair after daily power cuts.
SPECTRE OF MAJOR HEALTH CRISIS
"Gaza’s health-care system cannot provide the treatment that many patients suffering from serious illness require. Tragically, a number of them are not allowed to leave the Strip in time to seek health care elsewhere," it said.
Some 100-150 people who lost limbs in the military operation are waiting to be fitted with artificial limbs, according to the ICRC which runs a physical rehabilitation centre in Gaza.
"The fact that water and sanitation services could collapse at any moment raises the spectre of a major public health crisis," the ICRC added.
Each day, 69 million litres of partially treated or completely untreated sewage — the equivalent of 28 Olympic-size swimming pools — are pumped directly into the Mediterranean because they cannot be treated, it said.
The collapse of Gaza’s economy due to the closure led to 44 percent unemployment in April and a "dramatic increase in poverty". More than 70 percent of Gazans live in poverty, with income of less than $250 a month for a family of up to nine.
"The declining living standards will have a negative effect on the health and wellbeing of the population in the long term. Worst affected are the children, who make up more than half of Gaza’s population," said Antoine Grand, head of its 109-strong delegation deployed in Gaza.
A United Nations inquiry into alleged war crimes in Gaza and southern Israel is holding public hearings in Gaza City on Sunday and Monday. Led by former U.N. war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone, it will also take testimony in Geneva in July. (Editing by Charles Dick)