CRS: Situation in Gaza still dire, despite ceasefire

A Palestinian girl stands in front of a building destroyed during Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City May 6 2019 Credit Mahmud Hams  AFP  Getty Images A Palestinian girl stands in front of a building destroyed during Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City. May 6, 2019. | Mahmud Hams / AFP / Getty Images.

Although a ceasefire has calmed a violent situation in Gaza, one Catholic aid agency warned that the people living there remain extremely vulnerable due to drastic cuts in U.S. humanitarian assistance.

"Gaza is on the edge of a complete economic collapse," said Hilary DuBose, country representative for Catholic Relief Services in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza.

"Any additional pressure could be disastrous for the people who live there, and restoration of humanitarian aid is urgently needed," she said.

A ceasefire called on Monday brought an end to a particularly violent weekend in Gaza, during which about 30 people were killed. Some 700 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel over the weekend.

While the majority of the rocket fire was intercepted by Israel's "Iron Dome" system, at least one managed to reach Israel, where four people were killed.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) attacked with fighter jets in response, and killed at least 27. Included in that total were eight members of the Quds Brigade, the militant wing of the Islamic Jihad.

At least two pregnant women were also killed, although it is unclear if their deaths were the result of Israeli airstrikes or from a rocket misfire.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid the blame for the casualties at Hamas, the governing party of the Gaza Strip. The United States considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization.

According to CNN, the weekend's attacks were the first major increase in violence since Israel's election last month.

In a May 8 press release, Catholic Relief Services said it was grateful for the ceasefire, but fears that "if fighting resumes and escalates, the already dire humanitarian situation will push Gaza to the brink."

The agency said cuts in funding to the region have left families there struggling to find food, clean water, and medicine.

Early last year, the Trump administration announced that it was withholding $65 million that had been designated for UN relief efforts for Palestinian refugees. Officials said the foreign assistance would be frozen until the administration could determine whether United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East had made unspecified reforms.

That review does not have a clear timeline for completion, Catholic Relief Services said. But in the meantime, the people of Gaza are suffering.

"Those funding cuts impact every aspect of their lives," DuBose said. "They are struggling to find work, feed their families, and get the health care they need."

After a decade of conflict, and with unemployment rates at more than 50%, protests have become common in the region, and tensions are high.

"Another war would just be too much for many people to bear," DuBose said, noting that in some places, the people are still trying to rebuild from previous conflicts.

As the House Appropriations Committee prepares to consider foreign assistance funding for Fiscal Year 2020, Catholic Relief Services is asking Congress to renew funding for families in the region.

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Last month, Catholic Relief Services was one of 18 organizations that welcomed the introduction of a Senate resolution calling for the humanitarian aid already approved by Congress to be distributed to residents of the West Bank and Gaza.

"The vulnerable people we serve can't wait any longer," the agency said.

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