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by Shane Bauer

After 19-Month Israel Blockade, Gaza Civilians Were Already at Subsistence Level

(PNS) -- Wafa Ulliyan says she is one of the lucky ones in her neighborhood.

Crammed into her sister's house in Rafah where she and her family listen to a day and night chorus of shelling, she has food stocked up to help them wait out the Israeli siege on Gaza. The shops in her neighborhood don't have any flor, she says.

With all banks closed, many who could normally afford food are unable to buy it, she says.

"The Israelis aren't targeting the resistance. They are targeting me and my children," Ulliyan said.

While the death toll nears 800, with 3,300 injured, many are saying the shortages of basic necessities is starting to become worse than the constant threat of violent death.

The United Nations says 80 percent of people in Gaza are in urgent need of food aid.

The humanitarian situation is compounded by the fact that some 75 percent of Gaza is without electricity and 70 percent is without running water, UN figures say.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) announced yesterday that it would resume its work in Gaza a day after suspending its operations after Israeli soldiers fired on one of its food-laden trucks, killing the driver and injuring one of its workers. The attack is being disputed.

"We are 100 percent sure that we did not strike this convoy," an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson said.

UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said their information about the attack came an official report from the trucking company that was operating the shipment.

"It is clear that the attack came north to south from the area near Eretz. I'm not aware of too many Hamas people near Eretz," Gunness said.

Currently, UNRWA supplies humanitarian aid to roughly two-thirds of the 1.5 million people living in the Gaza strip. Approximately one million people receive health care from UNRWA, and the agency distributes food to roughly 750,000. Cash, which is difficult to access because banks are closed, is distributed to 94,000 by UNRWA.

UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness said his organization was given assurance from the highest levels that the incident by the Israeli military would not be repeated. "UNRWA will closely monitor the commitment of the IDF to our new security arrangements," he said by phone. "Given that our staff have been killed, this is an absolute necessity."

Meanwhile, an IDF spokesman refused to comment on whether the UN will indeed be safe from IDF attacks. Instead, he referred to a statement regarding the incident.

The full statement, which he sent by email, read, "Israel fully supports the work of the different humanitarian agencies inside the Gaza Strip. We are committed to doing whatever is needed to allow for this work to continue. In these difficult days, it is more important than ever that we work together to help the innocent civilians of the Gaza Strip."

Asked whether the IDF considers the situation in Gaza a humanitarian crisis, IDF Major Peter Lerner said, "I don't want to get into the definition of a humanitarian crisis. There is no lack of food or medicine in Gaza."

In Gaza City, hospitals are still in dire need of supplies, physician Mousa al-Haddad said by telephone from there today. "Almost everything you can think of is not available," he said. Shells exploded in the background as he spoke. "We don't have gloves, bandages, or local antibiotic ointment and we are short on basic medicines and antibiotics. At the Al Shifa hospital, we've been tearing bed sheets to use as tourniquets. There have been three to four people on each bed because we don't have space."

"I have visited some of the UN schools where refugees are staying," he said. "The situation was appalling. Among 4,000 people, groups of 10 people slept with one blanket and they were completely dependent on UN aid."

Journalists are still unable to independently confirm reports coming out of Gaza because the Israeli military is preventing all reporters from entering.

The amount of aid currently being allowed in by the Israeli military is "nowhere near enough to met the needs of the people there," says Shaheen Chughtai, humanitarian policy adviser for international relief agency Oxfam, in a phone interview from Jerusalem. "These crossings need to be open 24 hours."

Even if more supplies are let through, the humanitarian crisis will persist, she says. "Only those who are near the entry points would be able to access such supplies, leaving the majority of the population still struggling to survive in the face of a dearth of food, medicines and other essential items."

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Albion Monitor   January 15, 2009   (

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