(photo credit: AP)
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met Sunday with the representatives of a number of organizations providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, amid Israeli efforts to ensure that aid to the Palestinians continues even as the scale of the fighting is intensified.
One diplomatic source said Israel was intent on ensuring that the aid continued to flow into the Gaza Strip both because it was the moral thing to do, and also because avoiding a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip was one of the major concerns of the international community, and by ensuring a flow of aid Israel could deflect some of the international criticism of Operation Cast Lead.
Cabinet Secretary Ovad Yehezkel said Sunday after the weekly cabinet meeting that Israel was not at war with the Palestinian people, that Israel had no intention of reoccupying the Gaza Strip, and that there was no humanitarian crisis there.
Livni told the cabinet that the government's ability to provide the needed time for the military operation depended to a large degree on "domestic developments" in countries around the world, and that it was clear the "difficult pictures" emanating from Gaza would make it tougher for Israel to deflect diplomatic pressure to stop the operation.
As a result, she said, Israel was stepping up the humanitarian efforts into Gaza, and has set up a special center together with the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories where these efforts would be coordinated.
The Foreign Ministry issued a communiquÃ© on Sunday saying that Israel continues to ensure the civilian population in Gaza receives food, medicines and other humanitarian necessities.
According to the Foreign Ministry, since the beginning of the operation some 400 trucks carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid have been transferred to the Gaza Strip at the request of the international organizations, the Palestinian Authority and various governments. The ministry said that preparations were under way to facilitate further shipments expected to arrive in the coming days.
In her meeting with the representatives of the humanitarian organizations, Livni said that hospitals in the Gaza Strip were serving as Hamas bases.
Livni said that Israel, unlike Hamas, was working on a daily basis to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Gazan residents. "Israel has made it clear that we are fighting against terrorism, not the Gazan residents, and the extremists are the ones who are taking advantage of the concern of the humanitarian organizations and the international community as a means of pressuring Israel," she said.
Maxwell Gaylard, the UN humanitarian coordinator who has lived in Jerusalem for the past year and previously served in places like Somalia, attended the meeting with Livni along with representatives of the International Committee for the Red Cross, the World Health Organization, UNSCO (Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process); the UN Relief and Works Agency and the World Food Program.
"Minister Livni assured us that we would get full Israeli cooperation in getting humanitarian assistance into Gaza," said Gaylard. "There are only a limited number of crossings into Gaza, so it can be difficult getting in supplies. She promised she would help. Our mandate of responsibility are Palestinians, so I noted that 1.5 million people are packed tightly in Gaza. They are terrified and not getting enough food or clean water," said Gaylard.
"But we are aware of the fact that over a million Israelis are threatened by rockets and missiles from Gaza. This firing has to stop," said the UN official. "The UN is putting pressure on to get this violence to stop. The international diplomatic front is the answer. Somehow arrangements have to stop them so the entire conflict can stop and the peace process can move forward. It was a positive meeting, and we welcome Minister Livni's assurances."
Despite Livni's comments about Israel's determination to continue with the humanitarian aid, the UN issued a report Sunday saying that "Hospitals continue to be overstretched because of the large number of casualties that have accumulated since the beginning of Israeli attacks, and ambulances and medical personnel face difficulties in accessing casualties."
In addition, the report said, "Electricity and telecommunications are down over much of the Strip. Food distributions have been suspended and all crossing points remain closed.
Israeli officials did not deny this assessment, but said that the responsibility for the situation rested squarely with Hamas.