UXO Threat in Gaza

On 20 January two Palestinian children were killed by unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the Shaaf area, near Jabalia, east of Gaza city, highlighting a new threat to people’s lives in Gaza.

“It is becoming clear that unexploded munitions in civilian areas represent another major new danger,” said an ICRC assessment published on 21 January.

"Most children stayed at home during the past three weeks because there was no let-up in hostilities. Now that the fighting is over they are venturing out onto the streets again, but they run the risk of being killed or maimed by these remnants of war," said ICRC staff member Imad Abou Hasirah.

As the ceasefire in Gaza enters its ninth day, assessments are being carried out by aid organisations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) to determine the extent of the damage inflicted by the Israeli offensive.

"The fact that Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world makes the problem of unexploded munitions even more acute," said Antoine Grand, head of the ICRC office in Gaza.

"The contamination represents a major threat for the population and for rescue teams now working in the field. It could hold back the pace of humanitarian work."

According to sources in the international aid community, ordnance clearing NGOs are trying to assess the situation, but so far Israel has not allowed any in.

Aid workers say Hamas, too, must declare its willingness to cooperate with ordnance clearing NGOs before a clearing operation can begin.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, told IRIN: “There is no problem as far as I know. Two UN ordnance experts arrived in Israel on 21 January and they are free to go into Gaza and assess the situation. Besides IDF [Israel Defense Force] unexploded ordnance there is also the problem of houses which have been mined by Hamas in Gaza.”

More than 1,300 people were killed during the Israeli offensive from 27 December to 18 January, according to the Gaza health ministry, and over 5,000 were wounded.

(IRIN News)

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