Israel accused of downplaying food crisis
Israel was last night accused of downplaying the humanitarian suffering in Gaza in order to justify continuing its military assault.
By Tim Butcher in Jerusalem
Last Updated: 5:51PM GMT 01 Jan 2009
Talk of humanitarian windows came after another day of air attacks Photo: REUTERS
The director of the World Food Programme operation said she was "furious'' when she learned Israel was claiming warehouses were full of supplies.
Christine van Nieuwenhuyse said WPF stocks in Gaza showed a 30 per cent shortfall of dry goods such as flour and a much greater shortfall of 'ready-to-eat' goods which are in dire need in Gaza because of the acute shortage of power and gas for cooking.
Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, speaking during a visit to Paris denied the 1.5 million-strong population of Gaza was suffering a humanitarian crisis.
She was responding to calls led by France but supported by the European Union for a ceasefire in Gaza to allow a surge in humanitarian supplies.
"There is no humanitarian crisis in the Strip and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce,'' she said.
"Israel has been supplying comprehensive humanitarian aid to the Strip ... and has even been stepping this up by the day.''
Her analysis was at odds with Gordon Brown who categorised the current situation in Gaza as a "humanitarian crisis'' and called for a ceasefire.
Chris Gunness, spokesman for the United Nations agency responsible for Gaza's one million refugees – Palestinians who used to live in what is now Israel and their children – accused Israel of downplaying the humanitarian situation.
"When you look at the Israeli assertions about the humanitarian situation it is very hard to square this with the extraordinarily dire situation on the ground in Gaza,'' he said. "Any claims about human need at this stage need to be grounded in reality.''
The humanitarian situation has worsened rapidly inside Gaza with families living in unheated, unlit buildings through fear of being hit by flying shrapnel while others venture out to pick through rubbish tips for scraps.
Almost all food shops in Gaza have closed through lack of supplies and the few functioning bakeries are surrounded by long queues of customers on the rare occasions when they open.
Power has been out in central Gaza City since Israel launched operation Cast Lead and other towns in the strip have suffered numerous lengthy power cuts.
Mains water is not available to hundreds of thousands of people and there is a very real threat of a health crisis caused by the total collapse of Gaza's elderly and overwhelmed sewage system.
Gazans have been seen picking through rubbish dumps looking for anything to burn such is the dire need for fuel for cooking and heating.
Winter rains have meant temperatures in Gaza have plummeted, something that has been made worse by families leaving windows open for fear of shattered glass being blown into their houses.
Cooking gas, which used to come in through the smuggler tunnels from Egypt, is in short supply now most of the tunnels have been destroyed by Israeli air force bombs.
Another impact of the tunnel closures is that regular diesel in short supply. This is needed to run backup generators at hospitals, water pumps and, very importantly, sewage pumps.
Without new supplies of regular diesel all those functions will near collapse.
Israel has allowed in a small amount of industrial diesel to run Gaza's sole power station but the amount let in is much lower than that required by an Israeli court order won in an action brought by human rights groups.