01/08/2009, 00.00
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Three-hour ceasefire not enough to avoid humanitarian crisis in Gaza

There is no water, power and food in the Strip. Risk of infection and disease is high for at least 10,000 people. Fuel and wheat are top priority in humanitarian relief.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – “Tree hours are not enough,” said Mohammad Azzan, 45-year-old Gaza City resident, as he commented Israel’s decision to halt its military operations to allow some humanitarian aid for the population. “We don't have water; we don't have electricity; we don't have food. I fear that after this pause, a big Israeli operation will follow and they will invade all of our neighbourhoods.”

For UNRWA, the United Nations agency providing relief to Palestinian refugees, three hours are also not enough. But according to israeli sources the short respite planned for Thursday afternoon will be extended to allow more aid into the Strip and give residents a few more hours of truce.

Wednesday’s halt was the first pause in Operation Cast Lead launched by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

Cars and pedestrians were back in the streets as both sides respected by and large the ceasefire. The Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv reported only one breach when Israeli troops responded fire after coming attack from Palestinian militants. Hamas announced that fighting came to a total halt only in Gaza City as IDF operations continued in the rest of the Strip, albeit more limited in scope.

As soon as there was a lull in the fighting Gazans used the three-hour break to rush into the streets, forming queues outside food stores (pictured: line up in front of a bakery).

Others rushed to hospitals to visit injured relatives and relatives.

For the Red Cross the territory is facing a full-blown humanitarian crisis. The lack of power has stopped the Strip’s water pumps and bombardments have damaged sewers and contaminated wells. About 10,000 people could be affected by infections and epidemics, humanitarian agencies report.

The United Nations said fuel and wheat were priority items it had to import into Gaza.

With Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert allowing a humanitarian corridor, Israel let in 80 heavy trucks carrying aid, including fuel and basic items.

On Tuesday nine Israeli human rights groups petitioned Israel's Supreme Court, demanding steps to stop what they said was a collapse of Gaza's sewage and water system.

“Additional delay risks unnecessary and preventable destruction and even death for innocent civilians,” the petition argued.

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