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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 07:21 GMT 08:21 UK
Fears grow of humanitarian crisis
Palestinian woman in Bethlehem
A woman gestures that she is unable to buy bread
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By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News Online
line

International aid agencies have expressed concern at what they describe as the unfolding humanitarian crisis as a result of Israel's military operations in the West Bank.

They say tens of thousands of Palestinians have been confined to their homes for days and food and other vital supplies are quickly running out.


The Israeli Defence Forces are not allowing any humanitarian agencies to operate in areas under their control

Marie-Louise Weighill, Save the Children
Aid workers report that many homes are now without water and electricity because pylons and water pipes have been destroyed by Israeli tanks and what little food people have left is rotting.

Aid agencies say they are unable to deliver vital humanitarian assistance. And some aid workers have complained about being increasingly compelled to work under fire and at great risk to their security.

The United Nations children's agency Unicef says it has been unable to deliver crucial aid to the Palestinian communities in the West Bank over the past five days.

'Terrifying'

A representative of Save the Children in the West Bank says one of the major problems is that the humanitarian efforts are hampered by Israeli soldiers.

Palestinian woman in Bethlehem
Many shops and buildings have been destroyed
"The Israeli chain of command on the streets is breaking down and there is no respect for the humanitarian missions," Marie-Louise Weighill told BBC News Online from the West Bank.

"The Israeli Defence Forces are not allowing any humanitarian agencies to operate in areas under their control."


Medical personnel have been prevented from their life saving duties

International Red Cross
She said people were "living under an extremely terrifying curfew".

"Our main concern is for people who are most at risk In Nablus, for example, the very poor have been unable to stockpile food because they simply don't have the money," she said.

She said that in Jericho, which has been unaffected by the military operation, there is plenty of food and fresh vegetables, but no way of getting it to the people who really need it.

Medical help

The Palestinian Counselling Centre in Jerusalem says it has had been inundated by calls from people asking for help in getting bread and milk for their babies an vital medicine such as insulin.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Palestinian Red Crescent Societies has complained that over the past few days its medical personnel have been "prevented from performing their life saving duties".

Israeli tanks in the West Bank
Israeli forces have taken over nearly all the Palestinian towns in the West
The ICRC said in a statement that it had been prevented from working "because of a sudden degradation of the usual lines of communication" between themselves and the Israelis.

Workers and ambulances had been stopped by Israeli soldiers on a number of occasions while their vehicles were checked, delaying urgent assistance the organisation said.

"The ICRC and the International Federation expect to see a rapid improvement in communications, and a subsequent improvement in working relationships so that vital humanitarian assistance can reach the Palestinian population," the statement said.

But the organisation did say it had been able to transport a few urgent supplies to Nablus, Hebron and Jerusalem.

In Nablus, Dr Hussam Jawhari, director of the Rafidia Hospital, says that medical personnel are being prevented from doing their work.

"Nobody is able to come here. Nobody can move from one place to another," he told the BBC.

"The ambulances are not allowed to move either. We have a full team here, but we are not able to get to anyone who needs treatment or help."

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Dr Hossam Sharkawi of International Red Crescent
"Our ambulance services remain restricted in most of the West Bank"
See also:

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Egypt scales down Israel contacts
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US sends mixed signals on Mid-East
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