Thursday, February 19, 2009

US Members of Congress visit Gaza

Express Shock at Gaza devastation
Agence France-Presse
February 20, 2009

US Democratic representatives Brian Baird and Keith Ellison expressed shock at the plight of the war-shattered Gaza Strip during a rare visit to the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave today.

"The amount of physical destruction and the depth of human suffering here is staggering," Mr Baird said jointly with Mr Ellison during their visit which coincided with a similar trip by US Senator John Kerry. The visits were the first by US MPs since Hamas, an Islamist movement Washington blacklists as a terrorist organisation, seized control of the overcrowded territory in June 2007.

Mr Ellison, a representative from Minnesota, harshly criticised restrictions on the delivery of desperately needed goods into the coastal strip that has been under a crippling Israeli blockade imposed after the Hamas takeover. "People, innocent children, women and non-combatants, are going without water, food and sanitation, while the things they so desperately need are sitting in trucks at the border, being denied permission to go in," he said. "The stories about the children affected me the most," said Mr Ellison. "No parent, or anyone who cares for kids, can remain unmoved by what Brian and I saw here."

Mr Baird, from Washington state, said the situation he saw was "shocking and troubling beyond words". "The personal stories of children being killed in their homes or schools, of entire families wiped out, and relief workers prevented from evacuating the wounded are heart wrenching," he said.

Mr Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the US Congress, hailed US President Barack Obama for acting "quickly to send much needed humanitarian funding to Gaza for this effort". "However, the arbitrary and unreasonable Israeli limitations on food, and repair and reconstruction materials are unacceptable and indefensible," he said.

Mr Ellison and Mr Baird both said that their visit did not have the official sanction of the Obama administration. They said they held talks with civilians and relief workers, while Palestinian officials stressed they did not meet with any representatives of Hamas. During their visit, the pair visited Izzbet Abed Rabbo, a community in northern Gaza devastated during the deadly 22-day Israeli offensive that ended on January 18. An estimated 14,000 to 20,000 homes and other buildings were damaged or destroyed during the military offensive in which more than 1300 Palestinians were killed.

"The first and most urgent priority must be to help the people in Gaza. At the same time, the rocket attacks against Israeli cities must stop immediately," Mr Baird and Mr Ellison said. "Just as the people of Gaza should not be subject to what they have experienced, the Israeli civilians should not have to live in fear of constant and indiscriminate rocketing," they said.

Today, the two planned to tour the Israeli towns of Sderot and Ashkelon, which are regularly targetted by the almost daily rocket attacks from Gaza.,27574,25081418-23109,00.html

Thursday, February 12, 2009

After ceasefire, Gazans still don't feel safe

Report, Palestine Centre for Human Rights
10 February 2009

Foreign correspondents and camera crews have now begun to leave Gaza, in search of the next headline-grabbing location. But ongoing air strikes and violations of international law are a stark reminder that there is no real end to Israel's offensive here.

Since Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire on 18 January it has continued to launch strikes against targets in the Gaza Strip. Some families in the southern town of Rafah have been evacuated from their homes up to 10 times in the last 15 days.

Faten al-Shaer, a 31-year-old mother of one, lives just 150 meters from Gaza's southern border with Egypt. This area, known as the Philadelphi Route has been repeatedly targeted and is now a mass of rubble, sand and bomb craters. Her home is one of the few left standing here, surrounded by the grey concrete remains of homes, and the shreds of tarpaulin that once covered smuggling tunnels.

"I was baking bread when the bombing of the border area began on 28 December," says Faten. "Thousands of people took to the streets, trying to escape. Everybody was on the move. My mother, my five-year-old daughter Nagham and I ran to my uncle's house, which is further from the border." Other family members were scattered at the homes of relatives.

"During the war there was daily bombing of this area -- sometimes in the morning, sometimes at midnight," says Faten. "It went on for 22 days. When the ceasefire was declared we came back to the house but had to evacuate it again the next day because they started bombing again."

Faten and the 35 members of her extended family have still not spent the night at their home. They come back during the day but always leave before darkness falls.

"The children are suffering real trauma," Faten adds, as her green-eyed daughter Nagham clings to her. "Some of them are incontinent and they wake up in the night and start crying. My daughter Nagham has to hold onto me all the time. They understand it's a war."

The impact of the air strikes and incursions on the children of the Gaza Strip has been acute. Faten's seven-year-old nephew Dia was in school a few days ago, when he heard an unmanned Israeli drone in the sky. He automatically picked up his schoolbag and ran home, crying "The drones are still over my head. I can't take it anymore."

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gaza Children Traumatized by War - UN

UN envoy: Gaza's children traumatized by war, despite ceasefire
Ha'aretz, February 10, 2009

Children in the Gaza Strip continued to suffer and feel insecure despite a ceasefire that has mostly ended three weeks of intense fighting between Israel and Hamas, the UN special envoy for children and armed conflict said Monday.

Radihika Coomaraswamy said grave violations of child rights had been committed during the fighting that began on December 27 when Israel Defense Forces launched airstrikes against Hamas militants who had been firing rockets and mortars into southern Israel.

She said those violations included killing and maiming, and denial of humanitarian access. Fifty-six per cent of Gazans are children under 18.

"During the recent hostilities, there were no safe space for children and the crossings out of Gaza were, and remain, virtually sealed," she said.

The fighting killed more than 1,300 people in Gaza, one-third of them children and women. Thousands of people were injured.

Turning to children in Israel, Coomaraswamy said: "There is no doubt that children live in constant fear of missile attacks in southern Israel. The need for psycho-social support has increased recently."

Coomaraswamy, who recently visited Ashkelon in southern Israel, said the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Hamas against Israel clearly violated international humanitarian law and should not be ignored simply because it was less severe than the Israeli airstrikes against Gaza.

She said children in both Gaza and Israel have expressed "anger and despair as a manifestation of their desire for accountability."

She supported an international investigation into the killing.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) released Monday a telephone survey of 1,815 households in Gaza, those that still have landline phones, showing that 75 per cent of those surveyed expressed insecurity because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and border closing.

The survey said 45 per cent of households that still have a telephone reported war-inflicted damage to their homes, ranging from artillery shells to shattered windows.

Two-thirds of households polled said they needed assistance, identifying emotional and psychological aid as a top priority (28 per cent), followed by unemployment (16 per cent) and financial support (14 per cent).

The survey said half of respondents considered emotional and psychological aid as a priority for children because of their signs of stress such as bedwetting, nightmares, aggressive behaviour and anxiety.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

After Gaza War, Daunting Curbs On Rebuilding

Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 8, 2009

BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip -- Mohammed Irhaiem's former home was a spacious 1,500 square feet and was built from solid concrete blocks. It had views of the Mediterranean and fruit trees in the yard.

His new home, which he surveyed for the first time this week, measures 12 by 6 feet and is made of sheets of canvas held aloft by three wooden poles. His is one of 90 bright white tents that have sprouted in neat rows amid a sea of gray rubble, the wreckage from homes -- including Irhaiem's -- that were destroyed during the 22-day Gaza war between Israel and Hamas.

"It's humiliating," said Irhaiem, 49, clutching the hand of his barefoot young grandson as he contemplated life for himself and 24 relatives in the tent colony.

But it will have to do: Three weeks after the war's end, the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip has scarcely started, caught in a web of political battles that aid workers worry could prevent the work from ever getting done.

The most daunting obstacle is the lack of construction supplies, which are badly needed to rebuild the approximately 4,000 homes that were destroyed in the fighting and repair an additional 17,000 that were damaged. The United Nations estimates that as many as 100,000 people were rendered homeless by the war.

But Israel has banned raw materials from entering Gaza, reasoning that goods such as cement and steel could be used by Hamas to build bunkers or manufacture rockets.

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