Annan Warning on Gaza ‘Disaster’

July 8th, 2006 - by admin

BBC World News & Martin Patience / BBC – 2006-07-08 22:51:48

Annan Warning on Gaza ‘Disaster’
BBC World News

(July 8, 2006) — UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has demanded that Israel take urgent action to prevent a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip. Israel began a military operation in Gaza after the capture of a soldier by Palestinian militants two weeks ago.

Mr Annan called on Israel to restore supplies of food and fuel and to repair a power plant hit in an air strike.

Israel has rejected a call by the head of the Hamas-led Palestinian government for a ceasefire.

Mr Annan urged Israel to lift restrictions on the movement of basic goods such as foodstuffs into Gaza. He said UN agencies must be allowed to work in the region. It was his second statement in as many days about the situation in Gaza.

The BBC’s Richard Galpin at the UN in New York says Mr Annan is clearly becoming increasingly alarmed by what is happening and is becoming increasingly blunt in his statements.

Mr Annan said the strike on the region’s only power station had affected hospitals, water and sanitation plants, as well as food production.

In a separate statement, UN agencies including the World Health Organisation, Unicef and the World Food Programme said Gaza was on the brink of a public health disaster. They said there were water shortages and the situation at the sewage plants was now critical.

The WHO said hospitals and health centres — which are having to use their own generators for electricity — have at most two weeks’ supply of fuel.

‘Air Strike’
Earlier, Israel rejected a call by the head of the Hamas-led Palestinian government, Ismail Haniya, for all parties to restore calm through a mutual cessation of hostilities.

Officials in the Israeli PM’s office said there would be no truce until the captured Israeli soldier, Cpl Gilad Shalit, was freed.

Israel on Saturday said its troops had left their positions in northern Gaza. Dozens of Palestinians and an Israeli had died in two days of fighting there.

Meanwhile just east of Gaza City, Palestinian sources said a six-year-old girl, her brother and their mother were killed in an air strike on a house. Witnesses said an Israeli missile hit the house. Israel said its inquiry was continuing but it did not believe it was responsible for the incident.

Israeli forces remain in the south of the territory, as well as east of Gaza City. Israel’s incursion into Gaza is its biggest military operation there since it ended its 38-year occupation nine months ago.

Hamas has confirmed that Cpl Shalit, 19, is alive and is being treated well and humanely.

Anger and Grief amid Gaza Rubble
Martin Patience / BBC News

BEIT LAHIYA (July 8, 2006) — Ali Khatar, 71, opened his front door for the first time in two days to find his kitchen wall completely destroyed and the engine of his minibus sheared off by an Israeli tank.

For 48 hours, Mr Khatar, his wife, daughter, and two grandchildren, huddled in the back room of their house as Israeli tanks and soldiers fought Palestinian militants in the street outside.

Whenever the family heard gunfire they dived to the floor, fearful that a bullet would penetrate the house’s breezeblock walls. But by Saturday morning, the Israeli army had pulled out of Beit Lahiya, leaving churned-up roads and agricultural plots; damaged water pipes and electricity lines; and demolished walls and shattered windows.

“We were like prisoners. The children were living in fear,” says Mr Khatar, standing beside his front door, which is now lying on the side of the road.

Israel says the military incursion was to stop Palestinian militants from firing crude home-made rockets into Israeli communities lying close to the Gaza Strip.

More than 30 Palestinian civilians and militants were killed, and dozens more injured, during the Israeli incursion. An Israeli solider was killed during the clashes.

Mr Khatar is highly critical of the Israeli army for the deaths and damage it caused. But he says the Palestinian militants should stop using the area to fire rockets. “But how can we stop them?” he asks. “If we say or try to do anything they will beat us.”

Along the street, Hatam Atar, 29, a farmer, surveys his vegetable patch behind his house churned up by Israel tanks. The irrigation pipes are a tangled mess and his hen house and rabbit hutch lie flattened on the soil.

But Mr Atar says this is the least of his worries. Two of his cousins were killed during the clashes. “They were helping the militants by giving them sandbags to protect themselves from the bullets,” he says.

At the end of the street, a mourning tent with a green canopy has been erected to mark their deaths. About 60 members of the Atar family sit on a line of white plastic seats, standing up and shaking hands and listening to condolences as mourners arrive.

Prime Minister’s Visit
The men are distracted when a black Mercedes arrives at the tent and out steps the Palestinian prime minister of the Hamas-led government, Ismail Haniya.

As a crowd gathers round, Mr Haniya walks up to the uncle of the two dead Palestinians and plants a kiss on each of his cheeks in a traditional greeting.

The uncle, Mahmoud Ataf, 47, a truck driver, says he will miss his nephews dearly. “I’m against firing Qassams (rockets) into Israel,” adds Mr Atar. “But if I had a house full of Qassams right now, I’d fire them all into Israel.”

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