Holy Land: Caritas warns of escalating crisis in Gaza

 On Friday night Caritas Jerusalem issued the following message to draw the attention of all concerned people to situation in Gaza. At that time around 30 people had been killed in the Israeli bombardment. By Sunday night the death toll had reached more than 100, and the attacks are continuing. The recent situation, which escalated significantly in the last few days, has seen a dramatic loss of life, limb and property. The following events have taken place over the last few days. According to Reuters: "Israel unleashed a barrage of air strikes on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing 20 Palestinians including several civilians as well as Islamist militants involved in firing rockets at Israel. Despite international calls for restraint, the death toll over the past two days rose to 33. These included an Israeli, whose death from a rocket attack on Wednesday was the first such killing since May. Among the Palestinian dead were a baby and four boys who medical staff said were playing soccer. The bloodshed took to 66 the number of Gazans killed by Israelis in February, passing the 62 deaths in January." According to the Palestine Monitor, since "28 November 2007, the day after the Annapolis peace meeting. attacks have killed 178 Palestinians (18 in the West Bank and 160 in the Gaza Strip, including three children), and injured a further 617 (191 in the West Bank and 426 in the Gaza Strip, including eight children). The air strikes have also caused damage to a number of institutions in Gaza, notably the headquarters of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, whose office was completely destroyed. In addition, calls from the authorities in Gaza have gone out to the local population to boil water before drinking due to the inability of the water system to provide safe drinkable water to the population. The ability of the population to heed this call is severely limited due to the scarcity of gas, fuel and electricity in Gaza to boil water. The work of our medical centre in Gaza is continuing, but with some modifications. Yesterday morning (2-28-08), our medical team working in our medical centre, noted six explosions that took place very near our centre in the Al Shati Camp region in Gaza City. These explosions were of such a force that the glass window in our center shattered. We also operate a mobile medical clinic that reaches out to communities where little health care is present. In the last few days, this mobile clinic has not ventured out due to an extremely dangerous situation in Gaza. Our medical director has also pointed out that in the last few days, fuel for use in our mobile clinic is not available in the market. We have a very limited supply in the medical center, but no fuel is available for purchase to operate our mobile clinic. Our clinic, thankfully, has sufficient stocks of medicines at this time. In addition, we have recently made purchases of medicine for the clinic in Gaza through companies in the West Bank and are at this time coordinating with the World Food Programme to allow these medicines to enter Gaza. Caritas Jerusalem also supports the work of six medical points which were established last year as a pilot project with support from CAFOD (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development - Caritas England and Wales). These points were established in six locations throughout Gaza to respond to urgent emergency health issues in these communities where health services are very limited. These medical points have continued to work long beyond the time the project was completed with the assistance of volunteer doctors who live in the benefiting regions in partnership with the local community. A recent example of their work took place on 2-15-08 in the Al Breij Refugee Camp in Southern Gaza. An air strike hit a three floor building in the area and the medical team from the medical point in Al Breij responded to the urgent call for assistance. Sadly, four people were killed in this incident. Through the medical point, the volunteer doctor provided direct assistance to 25 injured people, from which five people were referred directly to hospital for further care. Caritas Jerusalem wishes to acknowledge the work of our staff in Gaza who are working under extremely difficult circumstances which at times are hard for all of us to appreciate. Even in the most difficult situations, our team works to continue providing health care to their beneficiaries. We remain committed to providing medical care in Gaza with a view to ensuring that our team remains as safe as possible and that no undue risks are being taken by them. This work is made possible by all of our partners and friends without whom we could not continue. To them, we extend our most sincere thanks. The Caritas Jerusalem Team

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