Correction to This Article
The article incorrectly described Nazareth as part of the West Bank. It is an Israeli town north of the West Bank.
Humanitarian Crisis

Food and Medical Supplies Grow Scarce in the Gaza Strip

Israel widened its deadliest-ever air offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers Sunday, sending more tanks and artillery toward the Gaza border for a possible ground invasion. Video by AP
By Sudarsan Raghavan and Islam Abdel Kareem
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 29, 2008

NIR AM, Israel, Dec. 28 -- The family of Um Shadi al-Bardaweel did not sleep. The Israeli airstrikes and the explosions, the sirens and the screams of strangers outside their house near the Shati refugee camp in the Gaza Strip kept them awake into the predawn hours Sunday.

At the first light of dawn, the mother of five sent her son to the bakery to buy bread. Hundreds of Palestinians had the same idea, joining a never-ending line. "There's no food in the market," Bardaweel explained in an interview with a reporter. Her son did not return until nightfall.

Then came another airstrike close to their camp, rocking the house and shattering the windows. "Our children started screaming in a crazy way," she recalled. "After each airstrike, my sons ask me: 'Why are we targeted? Will they arrest us? Will they come after us?' I tell them not to panic. We are far away from the shelling. But then tonight, the bombing reached our doorsteps."

As Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip continued for a second day, Palestinians struggled to survive amid a growing humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile, Israeli citizens living along the Gaza border prepared for retaliation from Palestinian fighters, fleeing their homes and readying bomb shelters.

Humanitarian aid groups sounded the alarm Sunday about what they described as a deteriorating medical situation in the strip and urged the opening of Gaza's borders to allow supplies to flow to hospitals. There are growing shortages of vital medicines and equipment, the aid workers said.

"There are hundreds of wounded in the hospitals in the Gaza Strip, and what we have received so far has only been a fraction of our need. Our supplies have been depleted, and we are in desperate need for supplies," said Iyad Nasr, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza. "We ask the parties to avoid striking the civilian population on both sides."

By late Sunday night, the toll approached 300 dead and as many as 1,300 wounded, Moawia Hassanain, a senior Palestinian Health Ministry official, said in an interview. The fatalities included 22 children younger than 16; more than 235 children were wounded, he said.

Many Palestinian residents said they received recorded messages purportedly from the Israeli Defense Forces saying that anyone with guns or weapons would be targeted without warning. When asked about the phone messages, an Israeli military spokeswoman said the military used "different means" of reaching out to Palestinians and declined to comment further.

A human rights group, the International Solidarity Movement, said Sunday that two houses where their staff members were staying suffered near-direct hits from Israeli missiles Saturday night.

"I was woken by an incredibly loud explosion that felt like it was on top of us. We ran for the door, but the blast had welded it shut. The windows had been blown in, so we crawled out through them," Jenny Linnel, a member of the group, said in a statement.

Bardaweel worried her house could be in the line of fire. "We are so afraid of our house being damaged," she said. "We are not afraid for ourselves, but we are afraid because of our children. There is no difference between those who got killed and us. We are already dead people."

On Sunday, in Gaza City, Abu Hisham al-Raies, who works at a gas station, struggled with the deaths of his two sons and a nephew, killed in Saturday's airstrikes. He sat inside his house solemnly greeting visitors who came to express their condolences over three days of mourning, as dictated by Islamic custom. Memorial posters of his sons and nephew were placed in front of Raies and around his house. As he recalled their deaths, his eyes glistened with tears; at times, he sobbed openly.

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