Church officials plead for Gaza humanitarian corridor

VATICAN CITY -- Gazans are in need of urgent medical care and a humanitarian corridor, Catholic Church officials told Vatican Radio.

"Many have lost hands or legs and need immediate care. Their situation is very difficult: They cannot go to Israel, to Egypt or to Jordan and they can't even leave their homes," Claudette Habesch, secretary-general of Caritas Jerusalem, told Vatican Radio Dec. 29. Caritas Jerusalem is the local affiliate of the Catholic umbrella group of aid agencies, Caritas Internationalis.

"The situation in Gaza is dramatic. Bombs are continually falling and now more than 1,500 people have been injured and need medical care, but in Gaza there are only 1,400 hospital beds," she said, adding that "a mosque was completely destroyed along with the house next to it and five brothers and sisters from the same family are dead."

Israeli warplanes began pounding targets in Gaza Dec. 27, striking ministries and facilities of Hamas, the Palestinian paramilitary organization that runs the Gaza Strip. More than 300 people have been reported dead.

Asked what the international community could do, Archbishop Antonio Franco, Vatican nuncio to Israel and the Palestinian territories, said it should act to guarantee a humanitarian corridor "to reach the victims, who are those suffering the consequences of these attacks."

"Unfortunately we are watching as defenseless spectators with great sadness because this escalation of violence puts everything back into question after some progress had been made in the negotiations. Certainly, the question of Gaza is particular because the Palestinians are divided: one group, Hamas, is for all purposes in conflict with the rest of the Palestinians," he told Vatican Radio.

"Here in Jerusalem as well, there is some nervousness; you sense that in the Arab population there is an emotional, psychological reaction to all this violence and to the number of deaths which is growing day after day," he said.


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