accessibility & help

Grief and devastation as fighting abates in Gaza

19 January 2009

Mother and child sit amidst rubbleReuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa, courtesy www.alertnet.orgAs fighting in Gaza has dropped off, people are venturing out to look for missing relatives and see what is left of their lives. For many, the rubble reveals only further pain and despair.

On 18 January, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) teams and ambulances of the Palestine Red Crescent Society rushed to areas that had previously been difficult or even impossible to get to because of the fighting. By midday, around 100 badly decayed bodies had been retrieved from under the rubble. Sadly, no survivors were found, raising fears that the actual death toll could climb in coming days.
Many people who had fled went to retrieve their own dead loved ones from their damaged or destroyed homes. Some were transporting bodies by whatever means they could find for immediate burial in the cemeteries. "We saw the bodies of two old women being taken away by family members on a donkey cart. Both had head wounds," said Iyad Nasr, the ICRC's spokesman in Gaza. "It is almost impossible to describe the grief and devastation in that particular place."

Destroyed neighbourhoods

A number of areas, including parts of Beit Lahiya, look like the aftermath of a strong earthquake – entire neighbourhoods are beyond recognition. Some houses have been completely levelled; others are still standing but were so badly damaged by shelling that it is too dangerous to move back in. Roads are completely destroyed, making it almost impossible for vehicles to move through them.

As the fighting largely came to a halt and civilians no longer have to concentrate on simple survival, they are trying to come to terms with their loss.

"An old man approached me as I was assessing destruction in a neighbourhood," said Nasr. "He told me that everything he had worked for all his life, everything he had achieved, had been destroyed: his house, his orchards of olive, citrus and palm trees. Everything. Then he wept. He just stood there with me and wept."

ICRC activities

ICRC staff are assessing the immediate needs of the population in Tel Al-Hawa, Al-Atatra and Jabaliya, which were among the areas of Gaza City worst affected by the three weeks of hostilities.

The ICRC co-ordinated the trucking of fuel to Shifa Hospital and to the Specialized Paediatric Hospital in Gaza City to ensure that generators can meet the electricity needs.

At Shifa hospital, the ICRC surgical team continues to work in support of Palestinian doctors treating the injured. The hospital has been overwhelmed by the sheer number of patients in recent days, and 50 mattresses and 100 blankets were provided to improve accommodation for the injured and sick.

ICRC staff escorted Palestinian engineers to assess damage to the Sheikh Ajleen wastewater-treatment plant south of Gaza City, hit by shelling several days ago. Repair work is planned for Monday.

Continued support

Palestine Red Crescent ambulance teams have been searching all day for survivors and injured people, focusing on areas worst affected by the weeks of fighting. Together with other local ambulance services, including those of the Ministry of Health, Red Crescent staff have helped evacuate bodies found in the rubble.

Since the start of the conflict three weeks ago, Magen David Adom (National Society of Israel) staff have evacuated and cared for over 650 civilians, in the areas of southern Israel affected by rocket attacks from Gaza.

Ros Armitage, British Red Cross conflict operations manager, said: “The needs remain critical. As families begin to return home, many are finding they have absolutely nothing left. Funds are desperately needed to help people come to terms with their loss and to get back on their feet over the coming weeks. They will need food, water and basic household items as well as health and medical support.”


On 22 January the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) launched an appeal for Gaza. The British Red Cross joins other leading humanitarian agencies under the DEC umbrella to fundraise for the appeal. 

For more information, visit the DEC's website.

More about the Gaza crisis

For regular updates, sign up to the ICRC's press release RSS feed

Read more about protecting people in armed conflict

Find out about our fundamental principles

Learn about the Movement

Read more about the ICRC’s role in conflicts (ICRC’s website)

Find out more about international humanitarian law (ICRC’s website)