UN Officials Address Humanitarian Needs In Gaza

United Nations officials said suffering stemming from Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip is being compounded by shortages of food, medical supplies, and other basic needs.

U.N. officials have expressed alarm at the number of civilian casualties that have been reported since Israel launched the attacks in Gaza. U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes spoke at a news conference in New York.

"I think the scale of casualties on the Palestinian side reflects the fact that, however hard you try to target in circumstances such as those of Gaza with a large population in a small area, civilian casualties are almost impossible to avoid. And that is particularly true when so many locations are being targeted," he said.

Holmes noted that, even before Israel launched the air campaign, Gaza was experiencing severe material shortages. The undersecretary said Israel has allowed several dozen trucks bearing supplies to enter Gaza, but he said the flow is insufficient.

"The problem is, because of the effective blockade that has been in place for many months now, and because of the increasing tightening of this blockade in recent weeks around Gaza, the stocks of some vital items are either very low or non-existent, and that is particularly the case for wheat flour. So we are starting off from a very poor position," he said.

Holmes noted that 100 trucks would have to enter Gaza daily in order to meet the needs of the civilian population. He said that, not only is a cessation of hostilities vital to salvaging any hopes of peace in the region, it is also indispensable for alleviating the humanitarian situation.

Also taking part in the news conference through a video link was the commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, Karen AbuZayd, who painted a picture of fear and chaos in Gaza.  AbuZayd said she is concerned that the situation will grow even worse if Israel launches a ground offensive into the territory.

"Because the targets have moved from being the Hamas institutions, police stations and so on to individual houses - people are being warned to evacuate their houses - it has become very unpredictable. People do not know where to be. And now [there is] the fear of the [Israeli] land invasion everyone has been expecting. So if this has been bad, having targeted air strikes all around, we are very much afraid of what it would mean if the troops are coming in by land."

News reports said several nations, including Spain and Iran, are attempting to send supplies to the Palestinian territories, either through Egypt or via humanitarian organizations in the region. 

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