Gaza "no place for civilians": ICRC

GAZA Mon Jan 12, 2009 4:21pm GMT

GAZA (Reuters) - Civilians in Gaza are in an increasingly precarious situation, with their homes too dangerous to shelter in and nowhere to run to, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday.

"No place is safe in Gaza these days," Antoine Grand, the head of the ICRC in Gaza, told Reuters in an interview.

"There is no place for the civilians. They are afraid to stay home, they are afraid to move, they are afraid to go down the street or to try to buy some food."

Unlike other conflict zones, civilians in Gaza have nowhere to escape to because the coastal territory is ringed by Israeli land and sea forces on all sides.

Grand said the Swiss-based ICRC, which rarely comments on ongoing conflicts so as not to damage its neutrality, had been fired on twice in recent days as its convoys tried to carry out humanitarian work in the Gaza Strip.

"It is extremely dangerous to be in Gaza and also as a humanitarian organization to work in Gaza," he said.

"The ICRC is trying to escort ambulances into conflict areas where there are wounded, so it is very dangerous and we have to have a coordination mechanism with the Israelis."

Israel showed no let up in its 17-day air-and-ground offensive against Hamas Monday. Israeli tanks pressed in on the city of Gaza from the north and south, and aircraft carried out further strikes on targets across the 40-km (24 mile) strip of land that is home to 1.5 million people.

More than 900 Palestinians have been killed in the offensive, including around 380 civilians, according to Palestinian medical officials. Thirteen Israelis have been killed: 10 soldiers and three civilians hit by rockets.

Grand said the ICRC had not been able to establish its own figure for Palestinian casualties as the situation on the ground was too difficult. Despite the sustained bombing, he said the ICRC would not be pulling out.

"All of us in the Red Cross, like the rest of the population, are under a heavy stress but we have a mandate to carry on, even if what we do is actually nothing compared to the needs," he said.

(Editing by Luke Baker)