Temporary halt to Gaza bombing a paltry response, says Médecins Sans Frontières + What MSF is seeing

Dandelion Salad

Crossposted with permission from Médecins Sans Frontières; thanks Pete.

07/01/2009 08:54

Temporary halt to Gaza bombing a paltry response as extreme violence victimizes civilians

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 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 life-saving 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 organisations. 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 twenty 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 authorisation 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 healthcare 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 office of MSF.

For more information, please contact Lucy Clayton on 0207 067 4236.


Gaza interviews: Israeli land attacks and what MSF is seeing

07/01/2009 11:40

“One of the strikes was on a house near my building and there were 10 dead people from one family, mainly children and women…”

Since the beginning of the land incursion into the Gaza Strip, 50 percent of casualties are reported to be women and children, according to official figures. Meanwhile, getting to the wounded has become very difficult. Members of the MSF teams have lost family members to the bombing, while others have had to evacuate their homes. A Palestinian MSF doctor and Cecile Barbou, the MSF medical coordinator in Gaza, were interviewed by telephone on 5th January and talk about the situation they are seeing on the ground.

Audio link

Please find a transcript of the audio below.

MSF doctor:

Yesterday at night they struck a local medical NGO in Gaza; they destroyed four ambulances near my neighborhood. They struck four times with an F16. One of the strikes was on a house near my building and there were 10 dead people from one family, mainly children and women. It was at exactly 6:30 today. And just one hour ago they struck a greenhouse near my building – a greenhouse for vegetables and things like this. I don’t know, it’s completely a strange situation and no one understands what’s going on. You know, everyone’s completely exhausted. I’m exhausted because I have a family and we wake up with bombs, we sleep with bombs. And we don’t know when the bombs will come.

Cecile Barbou:

Since the beginning of the land incursions, four of our staff members were directly injured.  One of the staff was under her house and she was able to go out without injury but she was very lucky.   Another staff saw half of his family dying in front of him and had huge difficulty leaving to evacuate the rest of the family.  Another staff member had her young daughter injured in the shoulder; she was operated on and she is fine. Another’s sister was injured by a bullet in the abdomen and she was operated on and she is fine as well. But it has changed drastically.  We can say that of our staff who were more or less safe in the beginning, they are now in a very, very complicated situation

MSF doctor:

In the ground operation now, the problem is that the main victims are civilians.  Mostly children, and the numbers are still increasing.  Now the total is more than 530 dead. About 110 or 115 are children among the dead.  These figures are from the Ministry of Health. We realize that there is a big problem with access and with evacuating the wounded people and dead from the areas, and the problem is that ambulances are not able to reach these areas to evacuate.  So most of the people that have died during this ground operation died after they had severe wounds and no one could help them or rescue them or take them to the hospital.

Today, the ambulances managed to evacuate the wounded from yesterday, and most of the cases are seriously wounded. They may have been moderately wounded or lightly wounded, but because of the severe bleeding and lack of access, now they are in a severe and critical situation.

For 10 days, Shifa Hospital alone has done 300 major operations. Most of the cases which were done were amputations, vascular, and orthopedic.  I think all the medical staff are completely exhausted, they are doing their best, they are working 24 hours, they are not seeing their families. This could be a problem in the coming days.  You know, each one has a limit.


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