AP, The International Herald Tribune, Published Jan. 6, 2009
UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations said Monday there is an "increasingly alarming" humanitarian crisis in Gaza, directly contradicting Israeli denials that its offensive caused the growing problem.
U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes told reporters Monday that U.N. officials believe as many as 25 percent of the 500 people killed in the fighting are civilians and that Gaza's health system is "increasingly precarious" due to the more than 2,500 injured.
He said Gaza is running low on clean water, power, food, medicine and other supplies since Israel began launching a heavy attack on the militant Islamic group Hamas that controls Gaza's government, first with airstrikes and then with troops and tanks.
Israeli leaders have maintained consistently there is no humanitarian crisis for the Palestinians living in the densely populated territory, and that they have been keeping the border crossings open and are delivering vital supplies.
"This is, in our view, a humanitarian crisis," Holmes countered. "It's very hard for me to see any other way you could describe it, given the conditions in which the population are living."
Holmes said it's "a fair presumption" that most of the civilians killed were women and children.
"It's not only a humanitarian crisis, it's one which is worsening day by day as the violence continues, which is why it's so important that that violence should stop," Holmes said.
Several times last week, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni denied there was a "humanitarian crisis."
She said Saturday in Paris that Israel has been careful to protect civilians and there was no need for a humanitarian truce, since there was no humanitarian crisis. She told Israel's TV Channel 2 that "we are maintaining the humanitarian situation in Gaza," according to Israel's Foreign Ministry.
It also quoted Livni saying Sunday that "Hamas is operating from within the civilian population, using it for its brutal needs, and is therefore responsible for the situation in the Gaza Strip."
John Ging, head of Gaza operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which deals with Palestinian refugees, said by video-link from Gaza that he saw mostly empty streets, except for the occasional family trying to run for safety with their suitcases.
"It's really a horrible existence for the people here at all levels," Ging said. "Shellings ongoing all the time. ... I can only describe the people to be terrorized by the situation. They're traumatized, and they're continuously now telling me that they feel trapped."