Due to the dramatic escalation in violence over the past few days and the massive assault on Gaza, UNRWA has declared an emergency in all five areas of the Gaza Strip. It is closely monitoring the situation and stands ready to mount an emergency response should that become necessary. The priority for the Agency at this time continues to be its regular operations, however urgent funding needs persist.
Past 24 hours: The deteriorating situation in Gaza was marked by more heavy airstrikes and other fire over the past 24 hours. Lack of movement in the streets, closed banks and majority of markets not open, remains a common theme across the five Areas in the Gaza Strip. It is reported that most Government installations are not functioning, except hospitals. People in Gaza are scared and fearful of what each new day may bring.
Beginning yesterday afternoon, Palestinian civilians were contacted over the phone in recorded messages from the IDF asking them to leave their houses and move. In the past 24 hours, this was reported in the North Area’s Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun, and in East Khan Younis. In total, reports indicate that approximately 300,000 people were asked to move because of an imminent incursion by the IDF. This tactic was used effectively by Israeli forces in 2012, when large numbers of civilians heeded these warnings and displaced themselves. In this instance, the civilian population has largely stayed in their residences.
In an exceptional move, the Rafah border crossing with Egypt was opened on 10 July to allow the evacuation of wounded Palestinians and for those who hold Egyptian citizenship. In total, 510 Palestinians crossed into Egypt yesterday.
To further support Gaza’s devastated health sector, the Egyptian Red Crescent Society is deploying a coordination and assessment team to North Sinai within two days, and preparations are being made for medical supplies and tents to be sent to Gaza today. The Palestine Red Crescent Society hospital in Cairo has advised that they are prepared and ready to receive injured persons for treatment.
As reported by WHO, hospitals operated by the Ministry of Health in Gaza are functioning but must cope with the large number of traumatic injuries with severely depleted medical supplies. Shortages of medicines were at high levels even before the latest crisis: 28% of essential drugs were at zero stock and another 16% were at very low stock (less than 12 weeks’ supply).
On 10 July, airstrikes destroyed a water line that provides clean drinking water for Beach refugee camp in Gaza. Efforts are now underway to repair it.
The reported death toll in the past 24 hours is 23 people, with 82 injured. The death toll includes 1 woman and 4 children – 3 girls and 1 boy. One UNRWA staff member was injured. The United Nations has condemned indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza on civilian areas in Israel and UNRWA condemns use of force by Israeli security forces on Gaza that cause civilian casualties in violation of international humanitarian law.
So far only very limited displacement has taken place and no emergency shelters have yet been formally opened at this stage, but some nearby residents have sought the temporary, relative security of UNRWA installations. Approximately 180 people used UNRWA schools as temporary shelters on the evening of 10 July. Forty-five Palestinians used two schools in Gaza City and 135 Palestinians took shelter in three schools in Khan Younis.
UNRWA’s preparedness levels are high but history shows that the organization can expect to shelter up to 50,000 displaced Gazans in its schools if a ground invasion occurs. Yet, the organisation holds NFI stock for less than 35,000, a legacy of scarce financial resources that did not allow UNRWA to replenish contingency supplies after the devastating flooding in December, 2013.
UNRWA very much fears that preparations for a ground offensive will imminently lead to large-scale displacement from areas near the fence with Israel. History has shown that this would have enormous impact on Gazan civilians, including significant damage to shelters and infrastructure, in addition to displacement and massive disruption to the economy.
Reportedly, 274 missiles were fired by Israel to the Gaza Strip. 311 rockets and 22 mortar shells were fired towards Israel. The Israeli navy fired 133 shells at targets, and 56 houses in Gaza were bombarded by Israel. IDF positioned at the border fired 45 tank shells.
There were 23 deaths and 82 injuries reported. This takes the reported total death toll since Tuesday, to 97, with 582 injured. Reports indicate that at least 28 children have been killed over this time period.
A total of 21 UNRWA installations have been damaged since Tuesday, 8 July.
In the past 24 hours, two UNRWA schools were damaged, one in Rafah and another in the Middle Area.
A warehouse in Rafah was also damaged.
Although operations for UNRWA continue in all five Areas, there is an urgent need for funding to cover the $22 million 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).
Following the escalation in violence between Gaza and Israel in November 2012 an understanding was reached between Hamas and Israel, mediated by Egypt. 2013 was subsequently the quietest year in a decade, in terms of violence between Israel and Gaza. Relative calm began to break down at the end of 2013, and any remnants have been shattered since the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank on 12 June, and then the murder of a Palestinian teenager from Shuafat on 2 July.
The Israeli blockade of Gaza entered its 8th year in June 2014 and continues to have a devastating effect as access to markets and people’s movement to and from the Gaza Strip remain virtually banned. The economy and its capacity to create jobs has been devastated, with the majority of the population becoming dependent on humanitarian aid to meet basic needs. The number of Palestine refugees relying on UNRWA for food aid has increased from less than 80,000 in 2000 to over 830,000 today.
All of this sits against the backdrop of a governance vacuum in Gaza. There was hope for positive change after the 2 June 2014 formation of a National Consensus Government (NCG), but effective control was never established.
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