'Israel doing its best to help Gazans'

Welfare minister tells 'Post' Palestinian population trapped in situation, Hamas using them as "pawns."

Isaac Herzog 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Isaac Herzog 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As Operation Cast Lead concludes its third week, the government is doing everything in its power to facilitate humanitarian relief and ease the shortages and distress faced by the population of the Gaza Strip, Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. The Palestinian civilian population "is trapped in the untenable situation of being used as pawns by the Hamas terror organization," Herzog said. He added, however, that Israel was not ignoring their plight. "We've seen a dramatic rise in the number of trucks and supplies going into Gaza" in recent days, he said. "Electricity has returned almost to pre-operation levels, with over 75 percent restored. Fuel is going into the strip at capacity, despite Hamas attempts to stop the supply. We're focusing on the immediate needs: medical supplies, medicine, food." According to the IDF, over 1,000 supply trucks have gone into the Gaza Strip since the fighting began. The shipments were expected to increase in the coming days, including truckloads of fresh produce to be sent in over the weekend, Herzog said. International and Israeli rights groups have expressed concern that a shortage of supplies, water and power was creating a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, while the government has maintained that Israel is allowing in a subsistence-level stream of supplies. In an effort to step up aid to Gaza's civilians, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday appointed Herzog to be the cabinet-level coordinator of humanitarian relief efforts being conducted by various Israeli and foreign agencies. Together with senior officers from an IDF support unit tasked with the same goal, Herzog has met with international agencies, including UNRWA, USAID, the Red Cross, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and others to help coordinate and streamline assistance, he said. Further coordination meetings are planned with Medecins Sans Frontiers and Israeli groups in the coming days. On Wednesday night, an El Al jumbo jet landed at Ben Gurion International Airport carrying 100 tons of humanitarian supplies, especially medical equipment, contributed by UNICEF. The UN agency's officials will be taking the supplies into the Gaza Strip in the coming days. According to Herzog, the government has also reached an agreement with the Red Cross to absorb Palestinian wounded in Israeli hospitals when the fighting ends.