22 January 2009 – Senior United Nations officials today began their assessment of the humanitarian needs in Gaza, getting a first-hand look at the damage and destruction inflicted on the Strip’s 1.5 million residents during three weeks of Israeli military operations.
“The mission was struck by the scale and urgency of the needs of the people of Gaza, and the heavy and multi-faceted impact that this conflict has had on the civilian population,” according to a joint statement issued by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes and UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry.
The 22-day offensive, which Israel launched on 27 December with the stated aim of ending Hamas rocket attacks, claimed over 1,300 lives, 412 of them children, and wounded more than 5,450, 1,855 of them children, as well as causing widespread destruction and suffering.
The bombing and shelling caused extensive damage to civilian facilities throughout the Strip, and supplies of basic food and fuel, and the provision of electricity, water and sanitation services remain critical.
“We saw a lot of shocking destruction,” Mr. Holmes said in an interview with UN Radio, describing the scene at several sites in Gaza, including the still-smouldering ruins of the UN compound that was hit last week by Israeli forces. “What is evident when you’re there is how miraculous it was that no one was killed.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has demanded a thorough investigation by Israel into all attacks against UN facilities in Gaza, and that those responsible be held accountable for their actions.
Mr. Holmes stressed that it was crucial to ensure that investigations do take place, adding that “questions of compensation will arise because there was obviously very significant damage… to UN installations, work and UN staff.”
During the course of their mission, Mr. Holmes and Mr. Serry will meet with Israeli authorities to underscore that country’s role in facilitating humanitarian assistance for the people of Gaza, including the need for full, timely, and unrestricted access for all goods and humanitarian actors.
They are also meeting the Palestinian Authority regarding the best way to scale up humanitarian assistance in Gaza.
Once the assessment is completed, the UN will launch a Flash Humanitarian Appeal for Gaza in early February.
Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) today began emergency distributions of vitamin A-fortified date bars and high-energy biscuits to thousands of displaced people in Gaza City. The distributions also include ready-to-eat meals for hospitals and milk for children. They are part of WFP’s recently launched Operation Lifeline Gaza. The agency is also scaling up its regular distributions of wheat flour, vegetable oil, chick peas and sugar.
WFP emphasized that all crossing points into Gaza will need to be re-opened for the agency to be able to move 600 tons of food every day into the Strip as is currently planned. So far WFP shipments have only been crossing through Kerem Shalom, at the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, including shipments from Egypt.