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Gaza Palestinians need relief from continuing humanitarian crisis
Presiding Bishop reiterates call for 'sustained intervention'

[Episcopal News Service]  Commenting on the unfolding developments in the Middle East, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said today:  "While much of the world’s focus is understandably on the disaster in Lebanon, we cannot forget the continuing humanitarian crisis for Palestinians in Gaza."

"Reports from the Anglican Hospital in Gaza, Ahli Arab, are devastating," Griswold said. 

In a letter of thanks to Episcopal Relief and Development for its contribution of $25,000, hospital director Suhaila Tarai wrote: "Since yesterday Israel military tanks and warplanes are sowing destruction to Palestinians homes, lands, infrastructures, roads, water supplies and electricity, innocents, children, women and sick persons are targeted.

"In al Sha'af -Toffah area alone (which is eight kilometers from Ahli Hospital) 25 Palestinians were yesterday killed with shills fired from tanks, among them were a pregnant mother and her two baby girls, 300 were also injured; moreover, tens of families are still captured and unable to leave their homes there.

"They are suffering from short of water, electricity and food despite of their S.O.S callings, yet the International Red Cross is unable to reach them. Gaza is in distress, humiliation and death."

International NGOs (non-governmental agencies)in Gaza said today that they are overwhelmed by calls for assistance as families struggle to cope without incomes, and without the means to ensure their families are safe and protected from the violence.

As NGOs scale up their humanitarian response, they have assessed the impact of the recent hostilities on their ongoing programs. In Beit Lahia, 27 greenhouses recently rehabilitated by CARE were completely destroyed and another 23 were damaged in the last month.

Approximately 100 square meters of the Beit Hanoun Municipality playground, rehabilitated by Save the Children, was severely damaged, and 30 meters of the playground’s wall were knocked down.

World Vision's partner agency, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, reports extensive damage to its Beit Hanoun office and loss of equipment as a result of a recent incursion.  

Other NGOs report recent damage to project sites, delays in implementation due to lack of access, and the freezing of donor funds for certain activities.

The Rev. Mark Brown of the Lutheran World Federation reports from Jerusalem that cancer patients from Gaza no longer have access to Augusta Victoria Hospital, the only radiation treatment unit for Palestinian cancer patients. 

"Even before the Israeli Defense Forces' 'Operation Summer Rains' which began on June 28, the humanitarian situation in Gaza was already at near crisis," said Maureen Shea, director of government relations for the Episcopal Church and board chair of Churches for Middle East Peace.

While attention is focused on Lebanon, the IDF continues its operations in Gaza. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that since June 28 one quarter of all Palestinian deaths in Gaza have been children (32 of the 150 Palestinian deaths). 

Two weeks ago the International Committee of the Red Cross reported on the continuing deterioration in the situation in Gaza saying: "The strike on Gaza's only power plant on 28 June reduced the power supply in the Strip by half, with direct and indirect effects on the population. Hospitals and a large part of the water and wastewater systems now depend on generators that consume considerable amounts of fuel, which is also in short supply owing to recurrent closures of the Strip.

"Furthermore, the strict controls imposed on the passage of basic items into the Strip have exacerbated the difficulties faced by residents, who were already living in precarious conditions. Under international humanitarian law, Israel is responsible for meeting the basic needs of the population, which include food, medical supplies and means of shelter."

Bishop Griswold today repeated the call to President Bush made in the July 20 Churches for Middle East letter in which they urged the President to undertake "sustained intervention of the United States at the highest level with both Israeli and Palestinian officials and with the cooperation of Egypt and the Quartet. We ask you to work closely with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz toward a diplomatic solution which will not further impoverish and burden ordinary Palestinians."