Church and aid workers are warning that the situation in Gaza is deteriorating as Israelis and Palestinians continue to face off, more than two weeks after Israel cut the electric power supply to Gaza in response to Palestinian missile launchings into Israel - writes Judith Sudilovsky.
"This is a very severe humanitarian crisis," said Valentina Maggiulli, Jerusalem local programme coordinator for the World Council of Churches-affiliated Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. "There are no basic supplies and it is very cold. People are really suffering, many are without electricity."
While the accompaniment programme has no presence in Gaza, which borders Egypt and is adjacent to the south western corner of Israel, they are monitoring the situation, Maggiulli said.
"The rockets launched into Sderot [in Israel] targeting a civilian population have to be strongly condemned. On the other hand you have 1.2 million Gaza residents sitting in a situation where they don't have basic supplies," explained Maggiulli.
Israel says it will maintain the blockade against Gaza and continue the small-scale military operations which have killed 16 Palestinians, including one civilian, since 4 February as long as the militants from the Islamist Hamas group launch Qassam missiles. According to its own press release Hamas fired some 135 missiles and mortars 5-9 February. Two brothers in the Israeli town of Sderot were severely injured on 9 February in a missile attack.
"We will continue to reach all the responsible terrorists including those who dispatch and operate them … in order to make sure that it is possible to reduce the danger and alleviate the pressure and distress that is hitting the residents of Sderot and the communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip so severely," said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at his weekly Cabinet meeting on 10 February.
Maggiulli said a truck convoy with three tons of supplies including food and much needed water filters which was brought to the border by humanitarian groups including EAPPI on 26 January was still waiting for permission to cross into Gaza on 11 February.
The Middle East Council of Churches Gaza office executive director, Constantine Dabbagh, said there is no petrol for cars and the electricity supply is sporadic. Israel has blocked fuel needed to run the Palestinian Electrical Power plant from entering Gaza but it says Gaza receives some 60 percent of electricity from Israel and five percent from Egypt so the fuel shortages affects less than 40 percent of the population.
"We have flour, rice, cooking oil, beans and 20 other basic items we need but we don't have 5000 items we used to have," said Dabbagh, noting it is almost impossible to find spare parts for automobiles and computers. "We don’t want people to look at this as a humanitarian crisis only but as [life] under occupation."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]