ICRC head: How many more must die?

Kellenberger insists Strip isolation must end, Schalit should be freed; "peace vital to Gaza reconstruction."

rebuilding gaza 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
rebuilding gaza 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
The rebuilding of Gaza after the recent war will succeed only if it is accompanied by "credible political steps to resolve the crisis," the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday. Speaking in Geneva ahead of next week's Gaza donors' conference in Sharm e-Sheikh, which will be attended by ICRC leaders, Jakob Kellenberger stressed that humanitarian action was vital, but insufficient to resolve the crisis. "Reconstruction is extremely important to help the people of Gaza on to their feet again. But it is unlikely to succeed unless there is a prospect of a lasting peace. Humanitarian action can be no substitute for an honest and courageous peace process involving all states, political authorities and organized armed groups that can influence the situation," he said. More than a month after the end of the war, Gazans "are still struggling to rebuild their lives. Tens of thousands of people have had their houses partially or completely destroyed, while thousands remain without access to running water," said the ICRC president, who was in Israel and Gaza a few weeks ago. Even before Operation Cast Lead, drastic restrictions on the movement of people and goods imposed by the Israeli authorities had led to worsening poverty, rising unemployment and deteriorating public services such as health care, water and sanitation, he maintained. "As a result, the people of Gaza were already experiencing a major crisis affecting all aspects of daily life even before hostilities broke out in late December." "To go back to the way things were before the recent conflict would simply perpetuate Gaza's plight," Kellenberger said. "What is needed is sustainable economic development. But that will be possible only if political steps are taken to prepare the ground. The first and most urgent measure should be to end the isolation of Gaza, particularly by lifting restrictions on the movement of people and goods." He also called on the Palestinian factions to stop targeting civilian areas in Israel and endangering the lives of civilians. He reiterated the ICRC's request for access to IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, who has been held captive in the Gaza Strip since June 2006. "How many more deaths, injuries and destroyed lives are needed before everyone finally realizes that there is no alternative to a credible and honest peace process?" Kellenberger asked. "The states, political authorities and organized armed groups concerned owe it to the people of Gaza and the region to take on this task now." According to the assessments the ICRC and the Palestine Red Crescent Society have conducted in the hardest hit areas of the Gaza Strip, the conflict destroyed more than 2,800 houses completely and almost 1,900 partially, leaving tens of thousands homeless. The ICRC has donated plastic sheeting to cover broken windows and holes in walls, kitchen sets, mattresses and blankets to 72,500 people. After a month of emergency repairs, the ICRC says, essential infrastructure is "now functioning at the same level as it was before the conflict erupted in late December. This is insufficient. Construction materials and spare parts must be imported urgently to proceed with repairs and reconstruction that can prevent breakdowns in services, to ensure that at least minimal maintenance is carried out, and to slow down the steady deterioration in infrastructure."