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UN Puts Gaza Death Toll at 900, Says "Tragic Horror Continues"

NEW YORK (January 13, 2009) --- The head of the United Nations relief operations in Gaza reported today that fierce overnight clashes between Israeli ground forces and Hamas fighters in and around Gaza City had killed 19 children and wounded 52 others, driven another 5,000 people from their homes, and put even more pressure on severely strained medical facilities that lacked the staff and equipment to handle the mounting casualties.

“I’m sorry to report that the tragic horror continues, and will continue until the guns fall silent,” said John Ging, Director of Gaza Operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Briefing reporters at UN Headquarters via video link, he added: “Every hour that passes here, innocent men, women and children are being killed and injured in a very brutal way […] I hope that this news will motivate those that can help to do all they can to bring this conflict to a conclusion.”

Asked to share his expectations of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s impending arrival in the region for a week of talks with leaders to end the violence, Ging said that, especially with a Security Council resolution on the table, he earnestly hoped for a ceasefire.

“The people here in Gaza -- every single one of us -- hope that the parties can be brought to respect that resolution,” Ging said, adding that there was a basis for “realistic hope in the work and efforts of our Secretary-General, which is greatly appreciated.”

Returning to the humanitarian situation, he said that current figures showed that the death toll in the 17-day conflict had risen to more than 900. Some 4,000 people had been injured, and UNRWA was sheltering more than 40,000 people in 41 schools. To help the 5,000 newly displaced Palestinians, UNRWA had opened five additional school sites, he said.  Sadly, that was perhaps “only a fraction” of the total number of people driven from their homes -– “those desperate people who have absolutely no where to go” -- because many would have sought protection with their close relatives and friends.  “And as we know, we are not offering ‘safe haven’, we are offering ‘refuge’, because nowhere at all in Gaza is safe at the moment,” he added.

Ging went on to decry the massive destruction of Palestinian civilian infrastructure, including Government facilities, schools and power stations –- tools that the international community had been working hard to develop, hoping to contribute to the building of a future Palestinian State.

Ging said that, while assistance was getting through some of the crossings from Israel, with 90 trucks passing today, another major challenge was the lack of cash being allowed in the blockaded Strip. That shortage had meant that UNRWA’s 94,000 special hardship cases -- “the poorest of the poor” -– had not received any aid since 18 November. 



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