Al Jazeera and Agencies – 2008-01-22 23:14:47
• Video: Jacky Rowland reports on the deteriorating situation in the Gaza Strip. Watch
Misery Mounts in Gaza
GAZA (January 21, 2008) — Gaza’s one-and-a-half million residents have been struggling to cope without electricity and other necessities on the fourth day of an Israeli blockade.
As hospitals began to run short of power and sewage spilled on to the streets, Israel’s prime minister said he would “not allow a humanitarian crisis in Gaza”.
On Monday evening, Israel said that it would allow some deliveries of fuel and medicine into the territory on Tuesday.
Ehud Olmert promised that humanitarian aid would reach “hospitals, clinics, young children and helpless people”, but did not say when.
‘Gazans Can Walk’
But Olmert also said that he had no intentions of letting Gazans “live comfortable and pleasant lives” until rocket attacks from the territory ceased.
“As far as I’m concerned, all the residents of Gaza can walk and have no fuel for their cars, because they have a murderous terrorist regime that doesn’t allow people in the south of Israel to live in peace,” he said.
Meanwhile in New York, the UN Security Council agreed to hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip, diplomats said on Monday.
The decision was in response to a request from Arab envoys to the United Nations and the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference, they added.
Ryad Mansour, the Palestinian observer at the UN, said he wanted a resolution or a statement demanding that Israel lift “its crippling, cruel siege on the Palestinian civilian population” of Gaza which he said amounted to “collective punishment” for rocket firing into the Jewish state.
Israel said its decision to allow the European Union to resume deliveries of industrial fuel as well as diesel for generators and gas used for cooking was only for Tuesday and restrictions would remain in place on petrol for vehicles.
Arye Mekel, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, said: “We think Hamas got the message. “As we have seen in the past couple of days, when they want to stop the rockets, they can,” he said. Five rockets were fired from Gaza on Sunday, according to the Israeli army, down from 53 in the two previous days.
Gaza City was plunged into darkness on Sunday after its sole power plant was switched off as fuel supplies dried up following the Israeli blockade.
The Israeli move to ease the restrictions came after the UN agency which supports the Palestinians warned it might be forced to stop distributing food aid to 860,000 people in Gaza because of a shortage of plastic bags to pack the food in and fuel for vehicles and generators.
Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said that the on-off blockade made it very difficult for his agency to provide relief. “I suppose we have to be grateful for whatever they allow in, because at least it allows us to partially fulfil our mandates,” he told Al Jazeera.
“This hand on the tap, allowing drips in now and drips in later, that’s not what we need. What we need is a sustained opening of the crossings.”
Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organisation, described the situation as grave.
“Disruptions in the continuity of essential services take a heavy toll on people needing emergency care and those suffering from conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes,” she said.
EU officials said hospitals had already been badly hit in the absence of electricity. Khaled Radi, a spokesman for the ministry of health in Gaza, said that many of them were only performing emergency surgery.
Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from the east of the Gaza Strip, said raw sewage was spilling out on to the streets, homes and fields because sewage treatment plants were no longer operating as there was no electricity.
Factbox: Gaza in Darkness
• Israel normally supplies 60 percent of the electricity for Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants
• Gaza needs around 240 megawatt of electricity, but normally receives only about 200 megawatts, with 8 per cent from Egypt
• Israel is the only source of industrial fuel for Gaza’s power station
• Israel stopped supplying industrial fuel supplies to Gaza on January 19
• The EU pays Israel around $10m per month for Gaza’s industrial fuel
• Around 800,000 people in Gaza City and its surrounding areas are now in darkness
Worldwide Anger over Gaza Plight
Al Jazeera and agencies
(January 21, 2008) — The Arab League and European Union have led worldwide calls for Israel to end its four-day blockade of the Gaza Strip that has caused untold suffering to more than a million people.
After an emergency meeting in Cairo on Monday, delegates from the 22 Arab states called on the UN “to carry out an international inquiry into Israeli crimes.”
In a statement, the Arab League described the Gaza Strip as “a disaster area” and appealed to the international community to provide the Palestinian people with necessary assistance.
Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general, told Al Jazeera that what was happening in Gaza was a “war crime.” He also urged the international quartet – made up of the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States — to put pressure on Israel.
“This is not terrorism as Israel is claiming,” Moussa said. “The real problem is the Israeli military occupation. And, Israel as an occupying nation has a responsibility to protect the rights of the people of the occupied land.”
The 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference supported the calls for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
The criticism of Benita Ferrero Waldner, EU external relations commissioner, was also strong as she accused Israel of carrying out “collective punishment” of Gaza’s 1.5 million people.
The EU commissioner warned that neither the closure of Gaza’s border nor the deadly air raids and incursions of the past week would bring Israel security from rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups. “Only a credible political agreement this year … can turn Palestinians away from violence,” she said.
Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, phoned Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, on Monday to stress “the need to stop the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people”. He also warned “of the deteriorating humanitarian situation resulting from the blockade imposed on the [Gaza] Strip by Israel.”
The Hamas movement, which took full control of Gaza last June, has called on other nations to put pressure on Egypt to open its Rafah crossing with the territory to let in desperately needed supplies.
“We have one demand and that is the opening of the Rafah crossing and the breaking of the siege,” Ismail Haniya, Hamas leader, said.
Peace Talks ‘a Mockery’
Syria said Israel’s actions made a mockery of the relaunched peace talks with the Palestinian government led by Mahmoud Abbas, the president.
“Talk of a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians flies in the face of the green light being given to the attacks and blockade,” a foreign ministry statement said.
Neighbouring Lebanon called on Western powers to end their silence over Israel’s military action against Gaza which has killed at least 37 people in the past week.
“Israel is profiting from the international silence … to unleash its rage against the inhabitants of Gaza,” Fuad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, said.
People gathered across the occupied Palestinian territories as well as in Amman, the Jordanian capital, and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, to protest against the blockade.
“Oh Arabs, where is your compassion? They are slaughtering our people in Gaza,” chanted hundreds of demonstrators in the Ein al-Helweh camp.
In Amman, about 2,500 people marched from the headquarters of Jordan’s main opposition party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), to the parliament building in the city centre.
“Bush [US president], Olmert, you are despicable. Our blood is not cheap,” chanted the protesters.
(January 20, 2008) — A humanitarian crisis is underway as the Gaza Strip’s only power plant began to shut down on Sunday, and the tiny coastal territory entered its third full day without shipments of vital food and fuel supplies due to Israel’s punitive sanctions.
The Gaza Strip’s power plant has completely shut down on Sunday because it no longer has the fuel needed to keep running. One of the plant’s two electricity-generating turbines had already shut down by noon.
This will drastically reduce output to 25 or 30 megawatts, down from the 65 megawatts the plant produces under normal conditions. By Sunday evening the plant will shut down completely, leaving large swaths of the Gaza Strip in darkness.
Omar Kittaneh, the head of the Palestine Energy Authority in Ramallah, confirmed that by tonight, the one remaining operating turbine will be powered down, and the Gaza power plant will no longer be generating any electricity at all.
“We have asked the Israeli government to reverse its decision and to supply fuel to operate the power plant,” Dr. Kittaneh said. “We have talked to the Israeli humanitarian coordination in their Ministry of Energy [National Infrastructure]. We say this is totally Israel’s responsibility, and that reducing the fuel supplies until the plant had to shut down will affect not only the electrical system but the water supply, and the entire infrastructure in Gaza – everything.”
After months of increasingly harsh sanctions, Israel imposed a total closure on the Strip’s border crossings, even preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid. The Israeli government says the closure is punishment for an ongoing barrage of Palestinian homemade projectiles fired from the Gaza Strip.180 fuel stations have shut down after Gaza residents to buy gas for cooking.
A Palestinian economist Hasan Abu Ramadan said the current humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip will be deepened by the blockade on fuel and food supplies. He warned that Gaza Strip could go from a situation of deep poverty to all out famine, disease, and malnutrition.
Abu Ramadan said that more than 80% of the Strip’s 1.5 million residents have been surviving with the help of food aid from international organizations such as UNRWA for Palestinian refugees.
Most international actors in the region believe there already is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, including the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, the Undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs John Holmes, who said at a press conference at UNHQ in New York on Friday that “This kind of action against the people in Gaza cannot be justified, even by those rocket attacks”.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon expressed particular concern, in a statement issued later on Friday through his spokesperson, about the “decision by Israel to close the crossing points in between Gaza and Israel used for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Such action cuts off the population from much-needed fuel supplies used to pump water and generate electricity to homes and hospitals”.
The UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied territories, John Dugard, also issued a much sharper statement on Friday, saying that Israel must have foreseen the loss of life and injury to many nearby civilians when it targeted the Ministry of Interior building in Gaza City.
This, and the killings of other Palestinians during the week, plus the closures, “raise very serious questions about Israel’s respect for international law and its Commitment to the peace process”, Dugard said. He said it violates the strict prohibition on collective punishment contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention, and one of the basic principles of international humanitarian law: that military action must distinguish between military targets and civilian targets.
Protest at the Gaza Border
Relief Convoy to Gaza
Israeli peace groups in coordination with the Palestinian International Campaign to End Siege on Gaza
(January 20, 2008) — We probably don’t have to tell you how terrible is the situation in Gaza. This is to ask you to help us January 26 bring a lot of food and other things missing in Gaza households.
Our convoy will not be able to solve the problem, but an action of Israelis bringing food to the people of Gaza supported by donations worldwide and coordinated with our Palestinian partners in the Gaza Strip will provide some help to some needy, and it is at the same time a visible act of protest.
The Government of Israel resorts to collective punishment, denies vital supplies to the inhabitants of Gaza and consigns them to terrible poverty, on the edge of starvation.
The Government of Israel rejects out of hand a ceasefire proposal, which could have provided calm to the inhabitants of Gaza and Sderot alike. It continues with daily warfare and with preparations for a major invasion, aimed at the complete conquest of the Gaza Strip.
• Please keep Saturday, January 26, free for participation in a protest/relief convoy, organized in Israeli-Palestinian cooperation and attended from both sides of the Gaza border. Details will follow.
• For background: 709603- 0506 Adam – 733276- 0505 Ya’akov – 575729-0508 Jana
The people of Gaza are being squeezed to death. This week’s blackouts have finally reached the attention of the world — and the international community could help end the blockade. Our obligation is clear. This isn’t about Israel vs Palestine or Hamas vs Fatah: this is about 1.5 million human beings locked up in the biggest prison on earth.
The siege of Gaza is a collective punishment violating international law, and far from ensuring Israel’s security, it is only stoking rage and desperation.
Incredibly, the UN, European Union and Arab League have so far failed to act. We must seize this moment with an emergency campaign: demanding that the international community step in to end this blockade, ensure the free flow of supplies, and help broker the ceasefire which civilians on all sides desperately need.
• Please click below to sign the emergency petition — we’ll deliver it to the UN, EU and Arab League when we reach 100,000 signatures, so sign and tell everyone you know:
The humanitarian crisis of sealed-off Gaza is only getting worse, and a rain of missiles is falling. No genuine peace talks will be possible while the siege continues. In the Israel-Lebanon war of 2006, we saw how global pressure and assistance can help stop a crisis and protect civilians from harm — we cannot stay silent about the crisis in Gaza. Please add your name now at the link above, and forward this message widely.
With hope and determination,
Ricken, Paul, Galit, Esra’a, Pascal, Ben and the whole Avaaz team
PS For more about the crisis:
• Associated Press article including Red Cross report:
• Former Clinton official calls for ceasefire, ending siege:
• UN reports on the humanitarian crisis, including background to the blackouts:
• Deepening medical crisis in Gaza (UN):
PSS In a global interactive poll, tens of thousands of Avaaz members helped to set our direction for campaigning on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and achieving a reciprocal ceasefire were both supported by over 90% of respondents: