January 15, 2009

On Friday, January 16, MSF held press conferences in Jerusalem and Paris to decry the dire humanitarian situation currently affecting civilians trapped in Gaza, and demanding that all parties to the conflict respect medical teams attempting to reach these people. Following are excerpts from the press conferences.

On Friday, January 16, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) held press conferences in Jerusalem and Paris to decry the dire humanitarian situation currently affecting civilians trapped in Gaza, and demanding that all parties to the conflict respect medical teams attempting to reach these people. Following are excerpts from the press conferences.

Cécile Barbou, medical coordinator for MSF’s programs in Gaza:
“How far can the Israeli army go before the international community mobilizes to stop it? It’s hell here. Even people carrying white flags are being shot at. It’s high time for the international community to organize, position itself, make decisions and take the measures required to stop this conflict. This passive stance is unbearable, intolerable! This has got to stop. We are outraged.”

Dr. Christophe Fournier, President, MSF International Board:
“This bloodshed of civilians must end. Médecins Sans Frontières today expresses its outrage that so many civilians have died and that aid workers cannot save more lives. The Gaza population continues to be victimized by indiscriminate gunfire and bombing. Medical workers lack access to the wounded and few victims can reach a hospital. When a hospital and a United Nations building are bombed, the sense of insecurity is overwhelming. We don’t know what the next target will be.”

Dr. Marie Pierre Allie, President, MSF France:
“Although we’re already facing a catastrophic situation, we fear the violence will escalate in the coming hours and days. We are afraid that more civilians will be killed and wounded and that hospitals will be bombed. It is critical that all parties to the conflict respect civilians, first aid workers, health facilities and humanitarian aid workers. This has not been the situation up to now. Humanitarian law applies in all conflicts and must be respected by all—including states.

“This extreme violence is striking a trapped, imprisoned population. We are told that the population is warned before every attack, but people have nowhere to flee, nowhere to take refuge. In more than 40 years of work in conflict situations, MSF has rarely faced such levels of violence against civilian populations. Whether in Somalia, the DRC, or even Darfur, none of those wars produced so many deaths in so little time. Our goal is not to establish a hierarchy of war horrors, but to denounce the cynical way in which Israel is carrying out its military offensive, with no respect for civilians.

“Despite official statements from the Israeli government, there are serious obstacles to providing humanitarian aid and, specifically, medical aid. Bombs and bullets do not spare ambulances, hospitals or health workers. This yawning gap between such admirable intentions and actual risks is unacceptable.”

Felipe de Ribeiro, Executive Director, MSF France:
“Using the excuse that a sniper or snipers are laying in wait near a medical facility in order to bomb that location is unacceptable. That’s not an acceptable argument. Our message is clear: the parties to the conflict must respect medical teams. A dead doctor is a useless doctor. We can’t send teams out to work in the midst of a bombing campaign without knowing where the bombs will fall. MSF medical staff were working in the Al Quds hospital but were not at the site when the building was bombed.”

Cécile Barbou, medical coordinator for MSF’s programs in Gaza:
“People here are desperate. They are trying to flee but it’s very difficult to evacuate families. It takes hours to get out and they often leave with nothing. We are taking in families that have fled other neighborhoods, but we’re also afraid that we will be targeted. No one is safe.”

Barbou expressed her regret that the assistance that MSF can provide today is so little compared to the needs. The opportunities for action are so limited that the extent of the needs cannot even be assessed accurately.

MSF’s post-operative care clinic in Gaza continues to accept wounded patients who require treatment after surgery, at the rate of 20 people per day.

“These are serious medical cases involving patients who are severely wounded and need to be treated quickly. For example, there was a girl with a four to five centimeter difference between her left and right legs. She will certainly need many follow-up surgeries. The surgeons are working as quickly as possible. Over the last three weeks, there have been 400 to 500 operations at the Shifa hospital, obviously performed quickly. Those who were not seriously wounded were sent home. Others are unwilling to take the risk to come to the hospital. We also treated many serious burn cases in our clinic.”

Mego Terzian, deputy emergency manager:
“An MSF surgical team is still trying to reach Gaza, where hospitals are calling for support from Médecins Sans Frontières. For the last week, two surgeons, two anesthetists, two nurses and a logistician have been waiting in Jerusalem to enter the Gaza Strip. The authorization process was delayed and then security conditions prevented entry at the Erez entry point, in northern Gaza. Israeli authorities refused to allow the team to enter at Kerem Shalom, another entry point. The team is now in Egypt and hopes to enter today via Rafah.”

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