The humanitarian situation in Gaza is nothing less than catastrophic. There are hundreds of dead and thousands of wounded. It is civilians, including children, who are bearing the brunt of the confrontation. The United Nations, relying on Palestinian sources, estimates the number of dead at 758 with 3,100 wounded. (source: UN press release of 8 January). At least 46 civilians died at the schools in Gaza operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in the two incidents of 5 and 6 January. According to official Israeli sources the rockets fired at Israel from Gaza have caused a total of 4 deaths and 176 wounded among the civilian population since the beginning of the IDF operation in Gaza (source: communication of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs of 8 January).
The periods of humanitarian truce must immediately be extended to make possible the creation of a permanent humanitarian corridor. In the past few days Switzerland has intervened through diplomatic channels so that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) can be admitted to the Gaza Strip and carry out its mandate. The FDFA is concerned about the destruction of ambulances and the substantial material damage caused to several hospitals in Gaza. All parties to the conflict are required to give protection to medical personnel, hospitals and other medical units. Protection must also be granted to displaced persons.
Access to medical care for the wounded as well as access to the civilian population for humanitarian aid agencies are essential requirements. Such access has been made virtually impossible, causing UNRWA to temporarily suspend its humanitarian efforts in Gaza after Israeli firing on convoys killed two of its employees. A member of the ICRC staff also came under fire. Attacks against humanitarian organisations are a violation of International Humanitarian Law. Switzerland deplores this situation and demands that humanitarian access be granted without delay and without obstruction. Humanitarian aid must be enabled to get through and the wounded evacuated.
The FDFA welcomes international efforts to bring the present crisis to an end, in particular the resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council (8 January 2009) calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Switzerland asks the parties to the conflict to respect the ceasefire and respond favourably to other initiatives under way. In this context, Switzerland calls for an impartial inquiry into the issue of respect for International Humanitarian Law, notably with regard to the attacks on the two schools operated by UNRWA.
Switzerland has decided to allocate an additional SFr 3 million to provide aid to the civilian victims of the conflict in the Gaza Strip. Swiss Humanitarian Aid is also prepared to offer logistical support to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), by seconding experts from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit. Finally, Switzerland is preparing to send an emergency humanitarian aid mission which will include experts from the fields of medicine, potable water and logistics. This mission is due to arrive within the next few days.
Switzerland remains convinced that there can be no military solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Only negotiations aimed at the creation of a viable Palestinian State co-existing alongside a State of Israel with internationally recognised and secure boundaries can bring a lasting solution to this conflict.
Note: each year on average the Swiss Confederation provides SFr 12 million in humanitarian aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. These funds are mainly intended for UNRWA and the ICRC.
Person to contact:
Toni Frisch, Deputy Director-General of the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development (SDC) and Swiss Delegate for Humanitarian Aid
Tel. +41 (79) 415 27 54
Address for enquiries:
Press and Information Service
Tel.: (+41) 031 322 31 53
Fax: (+41) 031 324 90 47