Temporary Halt to Gaza Bombing a Paltry Response as Extreme Violence Victimizes Civilians

New York, January 7, 2009 — The military offensive in the Gaza Strip is affecting civilians indiscriminately, while medical teams continue to face serious obstacles to providing assistance, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today. The international community must not be content with a limited truce, which MSF said is largely inadequate for providing lifesaving assistance.

As the Israeli military offensive continues, the toll—estimated at 600 deaths and 2,950 wounded in just 11 days—is reaching alarming proportions and is indicative of extreme violence indiscriminately affecting civilians.

“Today, 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip—almost half of them children—are the victims of incessant shooting and bombing,” said Franck Joncret, MSF’s head of mission. “How can anyone believe that such a steamroller attack would spare civilians, who are prevented from fleeing, and are crowded in a densely-populated enclave?”

The military offensive has sown terror within a trapped urban population. Residents no longer dare leave their homes to seek medical care. This insecurity also affects aid organizations. Palestinian humanitarian aid and health workers have been killed and hospitals and ambulances have been bombed.

Hospital emergency departments are besieged by wounded patients. In the last 10 days, medical staff at Al Shifa Hospital have performed more than 300 surgeries.

“The hospital’s six operating rooms are operating at full capacity, with two operations underway simultaneously in each room,” said Dr. Cécile Barbou, MSF medical coordinator in Gaza. “The Palestinian surgeons and the medical staff are exhausted, struggling to keep up with the number of wounded.” Most of the emergency cases involve patients with serious wounds, who have suffered multiple traumas, primarily to the thorax, abdomen, and face."

The MSF teams in Gaza, composed of three international and nearly 70 Palestinian staff members, have been trying to support Palestinian medical facilities and treat the wounded since the offensive began. They have already distributed medical supplies and medications to several hospitals that were close to running out of material. Today, approximately 20 MSF staff are treating Gazans in their homes, visiting close to 40 people every day.

“The level of insecurity is so high that our ability to travel and provide medical aid is extremely limited,” said Jessica Pourraz, MSF field coordinator in Gaza. “We need unfettered access so that we can reach the wounded around the clock, and civilians need to be able to reach treatment facilities.”

At the request of doctors at Al Shifa Hospital, MSF is sending a surgical team (a surgeon, anesthetist, and a surgical nurse), and a mobile hospital that includes an operating room and an intensive treatment unit, which will increase the hospital’s treatment capacity. MSF hopes to obtain the necessary authorization allowing the team, as well as all necessary supplies, to enter the Gaza Strip.

Under these circumstances, and while entry into Gaza of personnel and material is still restricted, the temporary bombing halt may improve wounded patients’ access to health care facilities, allow aid workers to move about and enable the transport of supplies of lifesaving materiel (fuel, food, medical supplies and medication). “However, these partial measures, which are intended to soothe international opinion, have no effect on the direct and massive violence that the population is experiencing,” says Dr. Marie-Pierre Allié, president of the French section of MSF.