On the night of 7 July 2014, the Israeli army launched a large military operation in the Gaza Strip, codenamed "Protective Edge", with the stated objective of stopping Palestinian rocket firing at southern Israel and destroying the military infrastructure of Hamas and other armed groups. Israeli attacks have so far included heavy aerial and navy bombardment throughout the Gaza Strip, targeting military installations, rocket launching sites and the residences of alleged members of armed groups. Israeli media reports indicate that the operation will be gradually scaled up, and may include ground operations.
Prior to the start of the operation and throughout, Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas' military wing, have shot hundreds of rockets towards Israel, reaching the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem metropolitan areas and other localities as far as 100km from the border with Gaza. However, the vast majority of the rockets have fallen in open areas, while dozens of others targeting built up areas have intercepted by the Iron Dome missile interception system. A total of four Israelis, including two civilians, have been injured as a result of rockets, alongside limited damage to property.
Since the start of the operation, at least 35 Palestinians, of whom at least 23 were civilians, including seven children, have been killed by Israeli bombardment. Approximately 300 others, including 71 children and 66 women, have been injured, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Heath in Gaza. At least 35 residential buildings were reportedly targeted and destroyed, resulting in the majority of the civilian casualties recorded so far, including an attack on 8 July in Khan Younis that killed seven civilians, including three children, and injured another 25. In most cases, prior to the attacks, residents have been warned to leave, either via phone calls by the Israel military or by the firing of warning missiles.
It is estimated that 150 houses in Gaza have been totally destroyed or rendered uninhabitable, and another 1,900 have sustained damage during airstrikes and shelling. So far, some 900 people have been displaced and are being hosted by relatives. No emergencies shelters have yet been opened. Damage was also inflicted on one sewage pumping station and two key water facilities disrupting the provision of water and sanitation services. Hospitals operated by the Ministry of Health (MoH) are functioning and treating injuries, despite severely depleted medical supplies and long electricity outages.
The streets of Gaza are mostly empty and almost all shops are closed. Due to a general strike, most government institutions were also closed, except for medical facilities. The Erez passengers crossing with Israel is open only for foreigners and urgent humanitarian cases, while the Rafah crossing with Egypt remains closed. The Kerem Shalom commercial crossing is functioning partially, allowing for the entry of only urgent humanitarian supplies and fuel. The Gaza Power Plant continues to function at half of its capacity, while electricity outages of 12 hours per day continue.
The Humanitarian Coordinator and the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza have both declared an emergency and set up mechanisms to coordinate emergency assistance. Local emergency coordination mechanisms, including by the Palestinian Civil Defence (PCD), the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and Gaza City Municipality, have been also set up to provide first responses, as needed. There is coordination at the field level between PCD and PRCS for ambulances and search and rescue operations.
The current crisis comes against a backdrop of heightened vulnerability and instability. Unemployment has increased dramatically since mid-2013, following the halt of the illegal tunnel trade by the Egyptian authorities, exacerbating the impact of the longstanding access restrictions imposed by Israel. Additionally, former de facto government employees, including the security forces, have not been paid salaries regularly since August 2013 and no salaries at all since April 2014. Delivery of basic services has also been undermined due an ongoing energy crisis.
Humanitarian needs and response
Following the declaration of an emergency by UNRWA and the Humanitarian Coordinator an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) has been set-up at the UNDP Compound in Gaza, and is managed by OCHA. In parallel, an UNRWA operations room has been established at the UNRWA Field Office in Gaza. The EOC's primary role is to centralize information management and coordinate operational responses among HCT members and clusters, as well as with UNRWA, ICRC, and local emergency bodies. Under the EOC, an OCHA-led Humanitarian Information Cell (HIC) has been set-up in Jerusalem responsible for reporting, communication and humanitarian advocacy. A sub-group of the EOC in Gaza led by OHCHR has been designated to monitor casualties.
HCT representatives met today with the Israeli Ministry of Defense (COGAT) in Tel Aviv and discussed ways to facilitate humanitarian operations in Gaza, including access of humanitarian goods and staff. An Israeli Operations Room will be working at the Erez crossing as of 9:00 AM on 10 July, with the presence of an HCT representative.
Local emergency coordination mechanisms of the Palestinian Civil Defence (PCD) and the Palestinian Red Crescent have been put in place to provide first response. The High Council for PCD also declared a state of emergency and has set up an emergency operations room to coordinate operations with other governmental institutions. There is coordination at the field level between PCD and PRCS for ambulances and search and rescue operations.
The 2014 Strategic Response Plan (SRP) for the oPt has received $164 million (42 per cent) out of a total request of $390 million. Nearly 90 per cent of 1.9 million vulnerable people targeted in the SRP are in Gaza. Less that 30 per cent of the funds requested for projects targeting Gaza specifically have been mobilized. Projects targeting Gaza and the West Bank jointly are fully funded, however, such projects only represent $68.2 million of the SRP total request. Funding across clusters has been uneven however, no clusters are on track with funding at the mid-year point with the exception of Coordination. Food Security interventions, which represent the bulk of humanitarian assistance in Gaza, are only 30 per cent funded.
The Emergency Response Fund (ERF) is an additional mechanism available to fund interventions in Gaza. While the ERF balance currently stands at $4 million, $2 million worth of proposals are already being processed to meet previous underfunded, critical SRP projects. The ERF is therefore in urgent need of replenishment to ensure the fund's ability to provide rapid and flexible support to affected civilian populations.
Although operations for UNRWA continue in all areas, there is an urgent need for funding to cover the $22 million of UNRWA's Emergency Appeal shortfall, already projected by the Agency. Currently, the most urgent funding needs include funding to continue the food assistance programme and additional resources to procure additional non-food items ($1 million) and fuel for critical installations ($2.5 million).
On 7 July 2014, the Israeli army launched a large military operation in the Gaza Strip, codenamed "Protective Edge", with the stated objective of stopping Palestinian rocket firing at southern Israel and destroying the military infrastructure of Hamas and other armed groups.
This development marked the collapse of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire understanding reached between Israel and Hamas in November 2012, which has been gradually undermined since December 2013. The latest escalation round started on 11 June, when Israeli forces targeted and killed an alleged member of an armed group, along with a child accompanying him, and Palestinian factions responded by shooting rockets at southern Israel. Tensions further increased following the abduction of three Israeli youths in the southern West Bank, on 12 June, which the Israeli government attributed to Hamas. Overall, in the period leading to the start of the current operation a total of 15 Palestinians, including one civilian, were killed, and another 58 others, mostly civilians, injured, as a result of Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip; seven Israelis, five of whom were civilians, were injured due to rocket firing.
The current crisis comes against a backdrop of heightened vulnerability and instability. Unemployment increased dramatically since mid-2013, following a halt of the illegal tunnel trade, exacerbating the impact of the longstanding access restrictions imposed by Israel. Additionally, former de facto government employees, including the security forces, have not been paid salaries regularly since August 2013 and no salaries at all since April 2014. Delivery of basic services has been also undermined due an ongoing energy crisis, involving power outages of 12 hours per day.