About 15,000 people have been living under siege in areas of the northern Gaza Strip without access to food, water, hospitals or essential supplies, since Israeli forces raided the area on 28 September in a deadly military offensive aimed at pushing Palestinian missiles out of range of the Israeli town of Sderot.

Israeli forces have been in control of all movement in and out of the village of Bait Hanun to the east of Salah al-Din Street, while access to the Tal al-Zatar and Glibo areas east of the densely populated Jabalya refugee camp are all but impossible because of the large number of Israeli tanks overlooking them.
 
Humanitarian assistance remains extremely limited to these areas, according to the UN Office of the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), with many people reportedly being without food or water for several days.

"As of October 6, we consider the situation is starting to be really drastic," said Iyad Nasr of the Red Cross.

Starvation

"People are suffering from shortage of food, water and medical attention. The population has not been allowed to leave their houses to access food and essential supplies for nine days. This of course is contravention of Geneva 4."

An Isareli tank points its cannon
towards Bait Hanun

Under the Geneva 4 Convention, the occupier must allow the civilian population access to food and essential needs if they deem it necessary to restrict their movement. If they do not allow them such access, they must supply them with these needs themselves, or at the very least allow humanitarian agencies to fulfil these duties for them if neither option is exercised.

"What we have seen on the ground is that they are not doing any of the above," said Nasr.

A UN agency working in the area said it was "very possible" that there could be a problem with hunger in the area.

"It is already there," said Nasr. "You are speaking about an average of seven to 10 family members in one house, so who can have food supplies that are sufficient for more than 10 days in the house? They have no electricity, so food supplies cannot be maintained, and people are running out."

Access denied

Aggravating the problem is the fact that the Red Cross has not been granted secure access to the area by the Israelis, while the UN has not been granted access at all. International humanitarian staff working for the UN has been prevented by Israel from entering Gaza since 21 September.

Refugees check the damage to
their home after a missile strike

The Israeli army says it has designated a "humanitarian route" for safe access by aid agencies. But, according to OCHA's Hamada Bayari, the route is not humanitarian at all.

"It's a catastrophe; it's very problematic. ICRC recommends no one use it. It is very risky."

The situation was so bad that the Red Cross was at one point unable to reach critical masses of people in the area. 

Nasr says on one occasion, ICRC staff and accompanying Palestinian teams representing local municipalities were shot at while attempting to go about their work restoring the high-velocity electricity networks.

Desperate measures

Nasr also said water and electricity networks in some areas had been badly damaged, leaving the people without access to water for more than 10 days.

Nasr recounted the story of Abu Jasir family, who called in with a desperate plea for help. The multi-member household, which includes one infant, were without a drop of water.

"They were about 25m away from house when the army started shooting near them.
They had to fall to the ground and crawl to reach the house"

Iyad Nasr, ICRC

The mother's breast milk supply had dried up due to stress and lack of nourishment, and her six-month-old infant had become dehydrated. The Palestinian Red Crescent, the ICRC's sister organisation, was able to provide them with an emergency infant food package, but only after several hours of coordination with Israeli authorities, and even then they were shot at says Nasr.

"We sent an ambulance to reach them and after being given the green light from the Israelis, the team had to get out and walk the rest of the distance to the family. They were about 25m away from the house when a tank started shooting near them. They had to fall to the ground and crawl to reach the house," said Nasr.

Another family whose water supplies had been completely depleted resorted to drinking their toilet water to survive.

"We don't have anything to eat, but had some water until last night. Now we used all of it, even in flushers of toilets," the family said.

Nasr said the Red Cross had been allowed restricted visits to the area, distributing food and water to a mere 250 families. An additional 7000 people remain in need of "immediate help", he said.

"We simply cannot continue to function in the field without security guarantees."