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8 October 2004

The ICRC in Israel and the Occupied/Autonomous Territories: activities and situation update Northern Gaza

The situation in the northern Gaza strip has been of grave concern since the start of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) operation "Days of Penitence", which began on 28 September in Jabalya Camp, in the northern Gaza Strip (GS). At the same time, Palestinian militant groups have carried out several rocket attacks on Israeli targets. Intense fighting has been continuing in some areas of the densely populated camp, home to more than 100'000 civilians. For the last 10 days, the Gaza Strip has been divided into three parts (south, centre, north). IDF "targeted killing" operations aimed at the leadership of various Palestinian groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have taken place in Gaza City and Jabalya.

The humanitarian situation in Jabalya camp, Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya are of particular concern to the ICRC. Thousands of people have been under curfew in Jabalya camp, and reports have been made of the destruction of houses and vital infrastructure by the IDF, as well as the dangers of the fighting itself. The population in parts of Beit Hanoun has also been unable to move around for several days. There have also been reports of hospitals being hit by missiles. In all these areas, the access of the population to basic needs such as water and food are of constant concern.

ICRC Access

Access to the area of Jabalya where the operation is ongoing (a 6 km2 area in the north-eastern Gaza Strip) has only been possible through a so-called
humanitarian road, first opened on 1 October. The road (not paved and only suitable for 4x4 vehicles) has been repeatedly damaged by IDF tanks and bulldozers and was unusable much of the time until 7 October. On 5 October, the IDF sought to open a second (paved) humanitarian road, but due to the discovery of several explosive devices, this second road is not yet in use.

The ICRC was able to enter Jabalya camp for only 4 brief missions between 28 September and 7 October. Coordination with the IDF needed to enter the area took up to 6 hours each day at that time, making time available for working on the ground very limited. Movement in Jabalya itself has been extremely dangerous and difficult due to restrictions of movement; damaged or impassable roads; ongoing military operations and intense shooting. For three days after 3 October, the required security guarantees were not forthcoming, and the ICRC teams had no access into the camp. However, after meetings with Israeli military commanders on 7 October, there have been considerable steps taken to improve the situation, and the ICRC has now, on 8 October, been able to enter the affected areas. Priority has been given to areas completely isolated by curfew or military operations, including the neighbourhood of Glebo.

PRCS Emergency Medical Service

Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) ambulance staff work around the clock to evacuate the sick and wounded. In view of the situation, the ICRC has been called upon to coordinate most PRCS ambulance movements. Currently, PRCS is the only emergency medical service able to work in many areas, due to the need to have 4x4 vehicles to negotiate very difficult road conditions.

Since the beginning of the latest operation, the ICRC has arranged over 25 safe passages of PRCS ambulances, and the speed with which access is granted by the IDF has improved in the last days; however, on a few occasions, ambulance movements have been delayed or had to enter an area without the proper security guarantees. One PRCS medic was injured on 30 September while trying to evacuate wounded from the area; the vital importance of respect for the medical mission must be stressed to all those taking part in hostilities.

Humanitarian problems

Many reports have been made to the ICRC from persons inside the camp about problems that have arisen. Vital infrastructure such as
water pipes and electricity networks has been out of service in many places, and roads are badly damaged. Schools, hospitals and private property have reportedly been damaged during military operations. There have also been reports so far that up to 80 houses have been destroyed by the IDF, but the ICRC has not yet been able to provide basic assistance to those made homeless. This will be a priority in the days to come.

Much of the civilian population has been
unable to leave their homes due to curfews (or simply intense fighting nearby); it is hoped that the relative calm of the last day will allow people to replenish supplies of food and water, and seek other urgent requirements.

ICRC activities and contacts

In the field

On 8 October, three ICRC vehicles and two PRCS ambulances had access to Glebo, an area adjacent to Jabalia camp. ICRC teams distributed
food parcels and water to 100 families. The PRCS team, which includes a doctor, assessed the needs in the area, and distributed medical supplies where necessary.

On 4 October, the ICRC distributed
250 food parcels and 9’000 litres of bottled water (donated by the local Zakat Committee) to approximately 250 houses in Jabalya

On 4 October, it provided
2 war surgery kits (each for 100 patients), to Jabalya's Al Awda Hospital (which had received 24 dead and treated 138 injured between 29 September and 4 October), and to Kamal Adwan Hospital, also in Jabalya.

The ICRC has arranged secure access for
PRCS ambulances throughout the operation so far, and also for engineering teams to carry out emergency repair works on infrastructure.

ICRC teams will continue during the coming days to distribute goods to the families in need, making assessments of requirements, and gathering information about the general situation.

Interventions to the Israeli authorities

The ICRC has made several interventions to the Israeli authorities, reminding them of their responsibilities according to International Humanitarian Law.

Topics include the protection of the medical mission, the welfare of the civilian population, and safe access for humanitarian organisations.

Calls from the ICRC for a meeting with the relevant Israeli military authorities in the Gaza Strip were answered on 7 October: during the meeting, several issues were discussed including access, security and humanitarian needs. Following this meeting, the access for humanitarian actors has improved; a constructive dialogue will be maintained with political and military Israeli authorities at all levels.

Contacts with Palestinian authorities and groups

The ICRC has met with Palestinian Authority officials, including the Governor of Northern Gaza, who is in charge of the emergency committee created by Chairman Arafat. Contact has also been made with the Palestinian MOH to arrange assistance with re-supplying hospitals or evacuation of critical cases via the humanitarian road, and with other public offices to arrange access for water trucks, fire trucks and engineer teams.

Contact has been made with representatives of Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and the ICRC has reminded these interlocutors of the responsibilities under international humanitarian law of all those participating in hostilities. Broadcasts on local radio have also informed the population of the ICRC's planned activities.

Coordination with other humanitarian actors

The general level of coordination has been very positive, with information sharing between humanitarian actors going well. The ICRC has participated in meetings with all UN agencies present (WFP, MDM, OCHA, WHO, UNHCHR), and has maintained close coordination with UNRWA. Contacts have also been made with several local humanitarian actors to better understand assistance needs. On 7 October, the UN managed to distribute food and water to 300 families after the ICRC interventions to the IDF.

ICRC set up

At present, seven ICRC expatriates and six national staff Field Officers are working out of the office in Gaza City to ensure a 24 hour presence and monitoring of the situation.

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