Between 11 and 13 March, the Gaza Strip and In this issue southern Israel witnessed the most serious escalation in hostilities since the Pillar of Defense operation in November 2012. Tension has also been exacerbated by multiple demonstrations in the restricted areas along Gaza’s perimeter fence, triggering live shooting by Israeli forces.
Overall, five Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip in the first two months of the year and another 79 injured, compared to 11 and 76 respectively in the whole of 2013. While Palestinian armed groups appear to have deliberately targeted Israeli civilians in southern Israel, no casualties have been reported as a result.
Analysts assess that this escalation is a result of the ‘pressure-cooker’ environment prevailing in the Gaza Strip. Key indicators confirm that the humanitarian situation in Gaza has deteriorated severely in recent months despite 2013 being the calmest year since 2000. The halt in the smuggling of goods from Egypt via the tunnels and the erratic opening of the Rafah crossing since mid-2013 have compounded the already fragile situation created by the longstanding Israeli blockade. Combined, these factors have further reduced access to basic services and sources of livelihood. This is reflected in the growth in unemployment, which in the last quarter of 2013 reached a three-year high (41.5 per cent). The number of food insecure households, estimated at 57 per cent in 2012, is expected to increase significantly in 2014.
While these circumstances would normally require an expansion of assistance to newly vulnerable families, humanitarian agencies are facing critical funding shortfalls that may force them to reduce their programs. This is the case for UNRWA and the UN World Food Programme, which provide food assistance to nearly 1.1 million people in Gaza. Tackling food insecurity is one of two priorities under the inter-agency Strategic Response Plan for 2014 (formerly known as the Consolidated Appeal or CAP). In total, UN agencies and NGOs working to improve food security and access to livelihoods in Gaza and the West Bank are appealing for $275 million for their 2014 interventions.
The immediate lifting of some of Israel’s longstanding access restrictions to and from Gaza, particularly on the entry of building materials and the marketing of Gazan goods in the West Bank and Israel, is essential to alleviate the current crisis and prevent further deterioration in conditions. It is equally important to ensure that when hostilities do occur, both sides distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants and take all necessary precautions to avoid or minimize civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects. The use of excessive force in the enforcement of access restrictions along the fence should be strictly avoided