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Bern, Press release, 24.01.2009

Yesterday, for the first time since the outbreak of the armed conflict on 27 December 2008, a team from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) of the FDFA succeeded in gaining access to Gaza. Overall, three teams have been deployed at present with the mission of initiating the delivery of Swiss emergency aid to Gaza.

A team of three entered Gaza via the control post of Erez in the north. At present, they are working with a local SDC member and the partner networks to assess the humanitarian needs and to initiate emergency relief measures for the Palestinian population. Access to the Gaza Strip remains severely restricted both for persons and for goods. Only with an authorization from the Israeli authorities (crossing points at Erez and Kerem Shalom) or from the Egyptian authorities (crossing point at Rafah) is entry to the territory permitted. 

For the time being, humanitarian aid in Gaza is targeted to providing the basic necessities in terms of food, water, shelter, and medical care. Other priorities calling for urgent action concern the schools and the provision of psychological support, particularly for children. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the armed conflict has left 1314 persons dead in its wake, of whom 412 were children. Some 5300 persons were injured. The public infrastructure has been badly destroyed and tens of thousands have lost their homes. 

The transport of twenty Palestinian infants in need of specialized medical treatment is being planned so that they may be taken from Gaza to the Caritas Baby Hospital in Bethlehem. The Caritas Baby Hospital is the only hospital in the occupied Palestinian territory specialized in caring for infants. Authorization for this transport, however, has still not been granted. 

The first delivery of emergency relief goods has already arrived at the Egypt-Israeli border, where it has been waiting to be cleared by Israeli customs for two days. It is anticipated that the convoy will be able to continue its journey tomorrow on Sunday. This will be one of the first relief deliveries of non-medical articles to arrive via Egypt, using one of the transport channels set up by the UN. Additional goods such as foodstuffs, sanitation articles, mattresses, and plastic sheeting are currently being procured in Cairo and being readied for shipment. A three-man SDC logistics team has been deployed to Egypt to organize the transport. In addition, over 4000 mattresses are being delivered from Jordan in cooperation with the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organisation. 

External fixators for the treatment of bone fractures have already arrived in Cairo, bound for the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. This shipment was made possible by the Synthes and Stryker companies in concert with the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS). The Ziegler Hospital in Bern undertook the task of sterilizing the articles and appropriately packing them for shipment. As soon as the authorization has been granted to enter Gaza, a three-man team from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) will take charge of transporting the material from Egypt to Gaza.

 At present, Swiss Humanitarian Aid has deployed three Rapid Response Teams (RRTs) in connection with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. In addition, a Swiss logistics expert has been seconded to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) for a three-month period. To date, the SDC has released an additional CHF 4.25 million for the present crisis in Gaza, of which CHF 3 million has been earmarked for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), with the SDC itself purchasing relief materials for CHF 1 million. The funds normally budgeted for the Occupied Palestinian Territory amount to an annual CHF 21 million.

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