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International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
21 January 2009
Gaza: unexploded munitions a threat to civilians and humanitarian work
On the fourth day of the ceasefire, emergency assistance operations are continuing in Gaza amid sporadic shelling and rocket firing.
As the ICRC assesses the extent of the damage caused by three weeks of fighting, it is becoming clear that unexploded munitions scattered in civilian areas represent another major new danger. On 20 January, two children were killed by unexploded ordnance in the Shaaf area, near Jabaliya, east of Gaza City. "Most children stayed at home during the past three weeks because there was no let-up in hostilities. Now that the fighting is over and they are venturing out into the streets again, they run the risk of being killed or maimed by these remnants of war," explained ICRC staff member Imad Abou Hasirah.
Civilians in the Gaza Strip suffered greatly during the three-week conflict, with more than 1,300 killed and 5,000 wounded according to the latest Gaza Ministry of Health figures. They continue to be at risk today, despite the ceasefire. "The fact that Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world makes the problem of unexploded munitions even more acute," warned Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC office in Gaza. "The contamination represents a major threat for the population and for rescue teams now working in the field. It could hold back the pace of humanitarian work."
The presence of unexploded ordnance is also likely to slow down the economic recovery and reconstruction in the Gaza Strip. The economic situation was critical even before the latest conflict owing to closures and restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities.
Meanwhile, the situation of civilians, in particular with regard to damage inflicted on their homes, has yet to be thoroughly assessed, especially in places such as Khuzaa, hard hit during the conflict, and in southern areas such as Khan Yunis.
According to a recent ICRC assessment, 250 houses and apartments were badly or completely destroyed in the Al-Atatra and Zaytun neighbourhoods of Gaza City alone. The ICRC will soon provide the families that have been made homeless with mattresses, blankets, kitchen utensils and hygiene kits to help them cope with their immediate needs.
On the morning of 21 January, over 18,600 people were still being accommodated in 33 UNRWA shelters throughout the Strip.
ICRC staff distributed plastic sheeting to replace the shattered windows of private buildings and houses damaged in the Tel Al-Hawa, Al-Atatra and Zaytun areas of Gaza City, enabling around 3,200 people to regain a measure of privacy and to protect themselves from the cold weather. Assessments and distributions of emergency aid started on 21 January in Rafah and Khan Yunis.
The ICRC provided support for repair work going on at the Sheikh Ajleen wastewater treatment plant, south of Gaza City, where a wastewater lagoon was damaged.
The ICRC supplied three generators to water pumping stations in Khan Yunis.
In cooperation with the Palestine Red Crescent Society, the ICRC restored family links for over 150 families in Gaza who had not been in touch with family members detained in Israeli prisons for at least a month. It conveyed the information to the detained relatives by means of Red Cross messages. This is the first time that the detainees have received news from their families about what happened during the military operation in Gaza.
Palestine Red Crescent activities
Over 100 Palestine Red Crescent volunteers are participating, together with ICRC staff, in daily distributions of emergency aid to families whose houses were damaged. The Palestine Red Crescent has been instrumental in determining which households are most in need of help.
Red Crescent personnel have continued to search for bodies amid the rubble. They recovered three bodies on 20 January.
For further information, please contact
Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 25 90 or +41 79 251 93 18
Anne-Sophie Bonefeld, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 2 582 88 45 or +972 52 601 91 50
Iyad Nasr, ICRC Gaza, tel: +972 59 960 30 15 (Arabic)
Yael Segev-Eytan, ICRC Tel Aviv, tel: +972 3 524 52 86 or +972 52 275 75 17 (Hebrew)
Nadia Dibsy, ICRC Jerusalem, tel: +972 5917900 or +972 52 601 91 48 (Arabic)