Caritas Jerusalem, part of the international Catholic aid network, is one of a range of church and faith bodies joining the call of UN agencies and NGOs for practical measures to end the escalating crisis in Gaza.
Last week, Caritas points out, 35 people in Gaza were killed and scores of others injured by Israeli missile strikes and military incursions.
Hit by a blockade, in January 2008, the region saw "the worst violence in recent months, with reports of 61 people dead. Many of those killed and injured were innocent bystanders."
Tens f thousands of people are currently (23 January 2008) fleeing over the border between Gaza and Egypt, following explosions overnight which destroyed part of the wall separating them.
The BBC reports that the development indicates the sheer scale of the crisis in Gaza and the level of desperation involved. People are going to seek basic household goods, fuel and farm animals. The Israelis are unable to prevent this at the moment.
Caritas Jerusalem says that the escalation of conflict follows the visit of President Bush which raised hopes for advancing peace, but in practice saw an increase in military actions on both sides in the aftermath.
"The recent violence has seen tighter measures enacted by the Israeli army as a result. This includes a complete closure of Gaza to all aid supplies", the agency points out.
The statement goes on: "Starting on [18 January 2008], the Gaza Strip was ordered completely sealed off due to ongoing Kassam rocket attacks directed at Israel emanating from Gaza. From 17-19 January, militants in Gaza fired 130 Kassam rockets and 80 mortars at Israel. This has lead to the loss of power to Gaza which has exacerbated further an already desperate situation of immense human suffering."
Caritas Jerusalem has highlighted a number of key challenges concerning Gaza's plight, which it says are immediate causes for concern and positive action:
1. Border closure - John Holmes, UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, called it "unacceptable" and "morally unjustifiable" for Israel to close the border to a daily average of 120 trucks of food/humanitarian supplies entering Gaza.
2. Dependence on International Aid: "In Gaza, we're getting to a situation where virtually all of the population is dependent on international aid supplies," said Holmes.
3. Increased violence - "This violence is putting what is already an extremely worrying and fragile humanitarian situation into an even more dangerous context." "The Israeli reaction is not justified by those rocket attacks, even though it's caused by those rocket attacks," said Holmes.
4. Health Care Sector functioning in an emergency environment - It has been reported in the media that some 48 medical cases have entered Israel for treatment and another 21 have entered Jordan, but among a population of 1.5 million, this is an insufficient number. According to the National Committee for Confronting the Siege in Gaza: "There are 450 cancer patients in the Gaza Strip and 400 suffering from kidney failure and 450 with heart problems, exposed to a genuine threat on their lives due to the lack of medicine and adequate equipment to follow-up on their cases, in addition to the ban on their travel. The same sources have indicated that between 600-700 cases in Gaza require monthly travel for treatment and 250-300 medical cases require urgent treatment. "
5. Need for electricity and fuel urgent - Electricity and fuel are urgently needed for hospitals to remain open and working. Hospitals that have power generators only have a limited time before fuel supplies run out and services to the hospitals are seriously disrupted. Hospitals are only responding now to urgent emergency situations.
6. Food shortages - With electricity cuts, fuel shortages and closure of the entry of food into Gaza, the citizens are worried about a bread shortage. "Dozens of people were seen lining outside a bakery in downtown Gaza, fearing the electricity cutoff would lead to a bread shortage."9 Food is scarce and UN agencies have only limited supplies in place.
Caritas Jerusalem is joining other international bodies in calling for an immediate end to the blockade facing Gaza, an urgent appeal to help address the humanitarian situation there and for an end to all military actions by the Israeli army and by militants in Gaza.