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Humanitarian Crisis Deepens In Gaza

An Israeli air strike hits near a mosque in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah.
An Israeli air strike hits near a mosque in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah.
The Israeli campaign against Hamas is now in its third week with no end in sight. In the densely populated Gaza Strip, the conditions for civilians are worsening daily.

Mohammed Ali, the Gaza City-based advocacy and media researcher for the British charity Oxfam, described the situation in his neighborhood in the south of the city to RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel.

RFE/RL: You live in Gaza City, some 3 kilometers from where ground fighting is taking place in the southern suburbs. The combat follows a pattern of overnight air strikes, Israeli troops advancing deeper into the suburbs at dawn, and then the Israelis consolidating their positions and relative quiet during the day. What do you see around you at the moment?

Mohammed Ali: The streets are empty so far, the Israelis have given a three-hour cease-fire for humanitarian reasons in Gaza. However, within these three hours we can hear from time to time the exchange of fire, but people feel a little bit encouraged to go out within the time of the three hours of the cease-fire to go and find food.

RFE/RL: Is there food to buy in the markets?

Ali: People have no money because banks are closed. We are talking about poverty, with more than 65 percent of the population already living under the line of poverty before the Israeli operation started.

Now the government employees have not received their salaries and they have no cash because the banks are simply closed. So, food is not generally available but when it is available it is expensive and people have no cash to buy the food.

RFE/RL: Is any free food being distributed by groups like yours?

Ali: Oxfam in the first day of the Israeli military operation suspended its humanitarian aid work that serves 25,000 people in the Gaza Strip, simply because there is no security and safety due to the intensity of the Israeli shelling and bombardment.

RFE/RL: You mentioned the three-hour cease-fire, which for several days now has been granted to give time for trucks to bring in vital supplies like medicine from Israel. But humanitarian groups say there are severe shortages of everything. How would you describe the overall situation?

Ali: Sixty-five percent of the population -- there are a total of 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip -- has no proper access to water. I would say that only two hours each week they have access to water.

And the medical situation now is really in danger because hospitals are dependent on backup generators to generate electricity for the intensive-care unit and other vital departments. These generators might stop at any moment because they are not designed to work for a long time. The hospitals are overwhelmed with injuries.

The humanitarian situation was already, before the Israeli military operation, in severe conditions due to the 1 1/2 year of the Israeli blockade, which exhausted the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and exhausted the market of food, fuel, and electricity, also.

RFE/RL: Finally, there are many reports of people fleeing the fighting, including from the southern suburbs near where you live. Where do they go?

Ali: Thousands of people have fled their homes, going to UN schools or their relatives, trying to find a safer place anywhere they can protect themselves from the Israeli shelling.

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