Caritas in Gaza: 'they have given us a window when we need a door'

 This account was sent to us by Caritas Jerusalem.

In a place that is in the glare of the world's media, all too little information is coming out of Gaza on the reality of the situation for ordinary people.

What is clear is that the crisis is both reaching cataclysmic proportions and showing no signs of abating. Of the 884 people confirmed dead, at least 275 are children, 93 are women and 12 were medical personnel. Supplies of medicine, food and blankets are all at critically-low levels as humanitarian access remains extremely difficult.

Those trying to get medical help to those most in need are facing the most difficult circumstances.

A medical clinic in Gaza run by Caritas Jerusalem was destroyed by an Israel F-16 fighter jet on Friday.

The clinic, in the Al Maghazi district of Central Gaza, was completely destroyed in the bombing that also razed four homes. At least another twenty homes sustained heavy damage in the blast.

Thankfully, since all of the families from the homes had already fled the violence and were staying in various schools in the district, nobody was hurt in the bombing.

Indeed, the day after the bombing took place another medical clinic was destroyed by another Israeli bomb. On Saturday, a clinic run by the Middle Eastern Council of Churches in Al-Shuja'ia, east of Gaza City was completely destroyed by another fighter jet.

Not only now have Caritas Jerusalem lost one of their six local medical points in Gaza, but the people of Maghazi are temporarily without medical support and over $10,000 worth of medical equipment was destroyed. Caritas Jerusalem staff are now struggling to stretch their operations to Maghazi from the existing point at Al Mosaddar.

The bombing at the clinic comes at a time when medical supplies are severely depleted throughout Gaza. Since the medical points had decided to focus on minor injuries, thereby freeing up the hospitals for more serious cases, Caritas Jerusalem had already shared much of its stock of equipment to four hospitals. These include such essentials as adrenaline, syringes and alcohol. As the Caritas outlets come under severe pressure, the strain on the already-overloaded hospitals will only worsen.

Fr Manuel Musallam, the Parish Priest of Gaza, said in a telephone conversation from Beit Hanoun this morning, "There are dead bodies lying on the streets. The clinics are carrying out operations on the floor and women have no place to give birth."

One Caritas doctor has been carrying out clinical duties from his home because neither he nor the patients who depend on him have been able to reach the medical point. Another doctor had his home bombed on Sunday and because he doesn't know where he can live, his clinic's short term operations are also under question.

Caritas Jerusalem have also opened new informal medical platforms in the schools where people are staying during the incursion. These platforms are being run by medical staff who have been forced to leave their homes and are actually living in the schools themselves. Through the provision of basic medical supplies from Caritas, they are able to administer basic assistance and help keep the burdens on the hospitals down.

In the schools people are hungry, cold and afraid. Caritas has conducted so far a food distribution to 3000 people. Stories are pouring out of people sleeping three-to-a-blanket and near-freezing temperatures.

According to Fr Manuel, ""There is extreme fear everywhere here. The phosphorous gas being thrown in by Gaza is causing horrible reactions and the bombs the Israelis are dropping are literally cutting through people and through homes. You can hear children crying constantly. They don't sleep. They have lost everything. 70,000 people are living in schools and they are very cold. The ones who haven't gone to schools are living in their bathrooms or stairwells because they are afraid of shattering glass from bombs."

And children and families are suffering most. He continued: "The children are lacking medicine and are literally incontinent with fear. There is no water here. We are almost out of diesel for our generator that we have allowed people to come and cook from. When the diesel runs out we will have nothing."

Caritas Jerusalem General Secretary, Claudette Habesch, said: "To get medication into Gaza is extraordinarily difficult. There are small amounts getting through but the stocks are nothing compared to the needs. The humanitarian window being allowed for access to Gaza by the Israelis is not enough. They have given us a window when what we need is a door."

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