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    Int'l Red Cross Decries Gaza Humanitarian Crisis

    The International Committee of the Red Cross said Gaza is suffering what it calls a full-blown humanitarian crisis.  It said the death toll and number of injured is rising, the infrastructure of the Palestinian territory is shattered and civilians lack essential supplies.

    The International Committee of the Red Cross said up to 600 people have been killed and about 3,000 injured since Israel began its military offensive in Gaza.  

    The Head of ICRC Operations, Pierre Kraehenbuehl, called it a full blown humanitarian crisis.  He said the situation for civilians has become intolerable.

    "The main message coming out of Gaza this morning is one of fear and frustration.  People are scared, parents for the safety of their children and the population at large being caught up in fighting.  This past night was described to us over the phone this morning as being the most frightening of all to date," he said.

    The ICRC said people are trapped and unable to flee to areas of safety.  The Swiss humanitarian organization is appealing to Israel and Hamas fighters to refrain from targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.  It said it is critical that civilians are kept out of the line of fire.

    Kraehenbuehl said a distinction must be made between civilians and combatants.  He said direct and indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, such as homes, hospitals and water-power supplies, are prohibited under international humanitarian law.

    He said the Red Cross is gravely concerned by the growing number of civilian deaths and injuries.  He said the growing number of civilian infrastructure that is being damaged and destroyed, including hospitals, also is alarming.

    "In every situation of armed conflict, the issue of access to medical care is a crucial one.  In Gaza, this access has been worsening by the day.  Many people in Gaza currently do not get the emergency medical care that they need.  Some are even dying because ambulances cannot reach them in time, which is frankly appalling," he said.  

    Kraehenbuehl said the Israeli authorities are allowing the Red Cross to bring medical supplies, including blood, into Gaza.  He said the agency also has brought in tetanus vaccines, which are potentially life saving for wounded patients.  

    He said a team of Red Cross war surgeons has been allowed to enter Gaza to assist doctors treating the wounded at the main Shifa hospital.  

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