Gaza hospitals on the brink of collapse as Israeli offensive continues

“Every day that passes without a truce is costing innocent lives. Foreign diplomats, governments and parties to the conflict must stop wasting time.”
John Prideaux-Brune
Oxfam’s Country Director in Jerusalem
Published: 6 January 2009

Civilian casualties mount as talks on ceasefire hit political obstacles

Tens of thousands of families under siege in Gaza are facing desperate conditions as mounting civilian casualties swamp a hospital system that is close to collapse, international aid agency Oxfam warned today.

The conflict is also stopping the highly inadequate amount of aid trickling into Gaza from reaching families trapped by the fighting, the agency said, but international efforts to achieve a ceasefire are being prevented by political considerations.

“Doctors working in Gaza’s hospitals say they’ve been swamped by casualties but lack essential drugs, medicines, medical equipment, and spare parts. Several paramedics have also been killed after coming under tank and artillery fire. A number of clinics have been forced to close because of clashes nearby,” said Oxfam’s Country Director in Jerusalem, John Prideaux-Brune.

“Additionally, hospitals are struggling to function because of round-the-clock power cuts. Fuel for back-up generators is now dangerously low. Scores of patients in intensive care face certain death if those generators stop. Yesterday, generators at Ministry of Health ambulance stations, vaccine stores, labs and warehouses shut down temporarily after running out of fuel,” he said.

The UN has managed to deliver food to some hospitals and southern areas in the past few days but has had to cancel distributions elsewhere. Similarly, a small amount of fuel has been trucked into the Strip recently but clashes have prevented distribution to most of those who need it.

“Many families, who need vital supplies such as food and water are simply too frightened to leave their homes: their situation is becoming desperate,” said Prideaux-Brune. “Other families are just keeping their heads down and some are able to move about locally – but their conditions can change at any moment as we’ve seen when shells have fallen on busy market places.”

Moreover, the Israeli ground offensive has cut the densely populated Gaza Strip into at least two sections. This has cut these areas off from each other, blocked the transport of injured people and medical supplies, and prevented access to the few border crossings that are intermittently open.

Oxfam welcomes diplomatic efforts by regional and international leaders to encourage a ceasefire but is concerned that time is being wasted by political considerations and finger-pointing.

“Every day that passes without a truce is costing innocent lives. Foreign diplomats, governments and parties to the conflict must stop wasting time apportioning blame, and give priority to humanitarian imperatives over political objectives,” said Prideaux-Brune.

Oxfam is calling for a binding UN Security Council resolution to demand:

  • an immediate halt to violence in Gaza and Israel by all parties,
  • all parties to commit to an immediate, comprehensive and permanent truce,
  • Israel, Hamas and other parties to permit immediate and unhindered access to and from Gaza for humanitarian and commercial goods, and for people, thereby ending the blockade.