Special report: Palestine-Israel Conflicts
A Palestinian carries a sack of flour received from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) headquarters in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip January 19, 2009. Israeli forces were pulling out of the Gaza Strip on Monday following a tentative truce with Hamas that allowed Palestinians to take stock of the devastating three-week war.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo) Photo Gallery>>>
UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 19 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations has already started assessing the devastating damage and relief needs in the Gaza Strip on the first full day of a truce in fighting between Israel and Hamas, with the overall bill possibly reaching billions of U.S. dollars, amid a feeling of "overwhelming grief" among the 1.5 million inhabitants there, senior UN officials said on Monday.
"The pervasive sense here among the population is one
of overwhelming grief, so many families have been destroyed in so many ways,"
the top UN official in Gaza reported from ground zero, noting that at his last
briefing on Friday he had hoped they would not have a further death toll.
"But we did, and again the number of children that
were killed since Friday were 42 out of 159 in total," Gaza Director of
Operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near
East (UNRWA) John Ging told journalists at the UN Headquarters in New York by
video link, adding that two of those children died in an UNRWA school that was
shelled on Saturday.
"Another terrible tragedy, two little boys, two
brothers, five and seven, indisputably innocent, but also now dead," he added.
"What we have now is people back out, trying to come to terms with what has
According to Palestinian figures that the UN has
called credible, the casualty toll from the three-week offensive, which Israel
said it launched to stop Hamas rocket attacks against it from Gaza, now stands
at 1,340 dead, 460 of the children and 106 women, and 5,320 wounded, 1,855 of
them children and 795 women, with a large proportion of the injuries severe,
including burns and amputations. Thirteen Israeli were reportedly killed,
including four from rocket fire.
"It may not be very clear who actually won this
conflict, if that concept means anything in Gaza but it's pretty clear who lost
and that's the civilian population of Gaza, and to a much lesser extent the
civilian population of southern Israel," UN Under-Secretary General for
Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes told the same
news briefing, adding that he intended to visit Gaza in the next few days.
He said all the main crossings, which Israel has
frequently closed in response to Hamas rocket attacks, were open on Monday, and
infrastructure repairs had allowed 100,000 more people to receive water,
although 400,000 were still without it, but sewage was still flooding the
streets of some towns in the north. Some 50UN facilities were damaged.
The number of supply trucks that crossed over into
Gaza Monday topped 170, but this was relatively few compared to the daily rate
of over 600 in 2005. Holmes said a Flash Appeal for urgent funding would be
launched within 10 days, and while declining to give specific figures, he put
the humanitarian relief needs in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and the
overall bill including reconstruction as likely to be in the billions.
Ging said that although he expected 20,000 of the
people who had sought refuge in UNRWA schools to return to their homes on Monday
night, that would still leave 35,000 seeking shelter. Aid operations are now
running at full swing and people have access to basic aid, but it will still
take a couple of days to repair infrastructure to supply water, he added.
The terrible scenes of people removing bodies from
the rubble, he said. "It's a really traumatic time for everybody," he said.
"There's a sense of relief that the fighting has stopped and now the challenge
facing us is daunting..."
"My message to everybody is a simple one. We need to,
number one, to ensure for the people of Gaza that they will be confident that
accountability will be achieved for them, for their loss, through a legal
process," he said. "Otherwise we concede to the agenda of extremism which is the
rule of the gun. And secondly, and equally important, is to restore them to a
"The people here have paid the price once again. The
death tollis evidence of the price they have paid," he said. "We have to
prioritize them. There are political complexities, of course, to overcome
"But the bottom line is to restore them to a
dignified existence, to give them a perspective which is positive, to mitigate
against the agenda of extremism here to which violence is very much an important
component," he said. "It feeds extremism and poverty and despair. To counter all
of that we need to restart the economy here and that will involve opening up the
crossing points, and not just for humanitarian assistance but to reactivate the
The UN Development Program (UNDP), in its capacity as
facilitator of the UN early recovery team, has already announced that it will
work with the Palestinian Authority to assess damage and devise plans for
rebuilding. The Palestinian Authority is committed to a two-state solution with
both Israel and Palestine living side by aside in peace, while Hamas, which
seized power in Gaza in 2007, does not recognize Israel's right to exist.
Immediate responses will include the removal of
unexploded ordnance and the clearing of rubble so that social and economic
reconstruction may begin, UN officials said here.
Meanwhile, the UN World Food Program (WFP) Lifeline
Gaza, launched a week ago at Egypt's border with Gaza to raise awareness and
resources for victims of the conflict, has already helped deliver urgently
needed nutritious food in Khan (south), Der el Balah (centers) and Gaza City.
Lifeline Gaza seeks 81 million U.S. dollars for food and logistics for 365,000
people in peril, said the officials.