IDF to help facilitate aid to Gazans

Fighting will be halted for several hours, possibly on daily basis, to allow food, medical supplies through.

gaza aid trucks 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
gaza aid trucks 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
To improve the distribution of humanitarian assistance in the Gaza Strip, the IDF plans to halt the fighting for several hours - possibly even on a daily basis - to create small pockets of time during which needed food as well as medical supplies and personnel can be moved within the Strip, according to Col. Moshe Levi, who heads the coordination and liaison efforts in Gaza. Already on Wednesday the IDF stopped its military activities from 1 to 4 p.m. to allow the safe movement of humanitarian goods within Gaza. While over 500 truckloads of humanitarian supplies have entered Gaza from Israel in the last 12 days since the start of Operation Cast Lead, the IDF's division of the area and the danger posed by Israeli military attacks have made it impossible to deliver those needed supplies to people in Gaza. "Today we devoted all efforts to stabilizing the situation in the Gaza Strip," said Levi. "We plan to continue this window [of daily time], but it depends on what happens on the ground," he said as he spoke with reporters on the edge of the Gaza Strip. As he spoke, one could hear the explosions in the background from the renewed fighting that followed Wednesday's short lull. Quartet Representative Tony Blair said: "I welcome Israel's decision to allow a temporary humanitarian lull today, intended to let the supply of much needed goods into Gaza. We must now ensure that this decision is fully observed and that there is greater and more predictable access for all humanitarian supplies. Levi said that the IDF has done its utmost to ensure humanitarian supplies got through and added, "We do not have any problem with the population of the Strip; we have a big problem with Hamas with their policy and their behavior in this area." He noted that even during the time that Israel halted its fire on Wednesday, Hamas continued to launch rockets into Israel. On Wednesday 78 trucks of humanitarian aid entered Gaza from Israel through the Keren Shalom crossing and 400,000 liters of fuel was sent in through the Nahal Oz Depot, said Levi. Still, human rights group said that the fuel deliveries were not enough to stop Gaza's sewage and water system from collapsing. On Wednesday Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR) and eight other human rights organizations petitioned the High Court of Justice and demanded that the government ensure full supply and delivery of all forms of fuel, especially for the water system and the Gaza power plant, and ensure repair of the electricity system, including by allowing spare parts into Gaza. The petition is due to be heard by the court on Thursday. The Gaza power plant , which has been shut down since December 31, provides only 25 percent of the electricity in Gaza while Israel supplies 70% and Egypt 5%. But many of the electricity lines have been damaged in the fighting. According to the United Nations, which is not part of the petition, 800,000 people in Gaza lack running water and those who are lucky enough to have water have a hard time purifying it. The Gaza Coastal Municipal Water Utility and the Palestinian Water Authority said the current Gaza Strip water and sanitation situation "indicate a severe public health threat to the population" due to severe shortages of potable water and an "escalating failure of sewage systems," including a potential threat to the structural integrity of Beit Lahiya Sewage Lake that could threaten 10,000 residents with the possibility of drowning. They said that nearly all sewage and water pumps are now out of operation due to lack of electricity and diminished fuel supplies to operate backup power generators. The World Health Organization's representatives said Gaza City hospitals continue to depend on back-up generators, but that these "are close to collapse from lack of spare parts." They added that some health personnel "are working 24-hour shifts to try and meet needs." In addition, health personnel are having increasing difficulty reaching their place of work. According to the UN, only three out of 56 primary health care clinics in Gaza were open because medical personnel can not reach the clinics. The International Committee for the Red Cross and the UN were coordinating with the IDF to secure passage for health staff between zones, which can take five to six hours. Dr. Mu'awiya Hasaneen, head of the Palestinian emergency health services in Gaza, said: "The situation is very difficult. There are many wounded and killed. I [was] on the ground early in the morning [and saw] a lot of people under the rubble. We cannot rescue them because we are being fired at when we head out. There are people stuck under rubble who are crying out for help, and on the other hand two tanks and helicopters fire at the medical personnel, with no consideration for the symbols on our vehicles or vests that we are medical personnel." The PHR also demanded that the state be required to allow immediate evacuation through Gaza border crossings of all seriously wounded civilians whom Israeli hospitals have agreed to treat. PHR said hospitals in Gaza were unable to cope with all the cases. "Many ongoing deaths are preventable with adequate medical facilities and care," the Israeli organization said. It also continued to call for an immediate cease-fire as "the only way of preventing further casualties and halting an escalating humanitarian crisis."