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Gaza Ground Invasion Heightens Humanitarian Crisis

January 5, 2009

The humanitarian crisis in the Middle East escalated over the weekend, when Israel launched a ground invasion against Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza. The fighting is delaying aid groups from delivering much needed food and supplies to the region's 1.5 million residents.

Joy Portella, director of communications for Mercy Corps, says a shipment of four tons of rice, tuna, dates and soy oil has been put on hold because of the increased fighting.

"People are holed up in their houses, markets are closed. If people can get out and if markets are open, there are prohibitively long lines. Also, there is a real shortage of goods on shelves in markets and in bakeries."

The Mercy Corps program manager for the Gaza Strip calls the humanitarian situation "the worse she's ever seen." Isdud Al Najjar told Portella she has not been able to leave her Gaza Strip home since the violence started.

"They, like many other families, have no electricity; they have no heat. It is winter there. They don't have much food left. They are really kind of bare-bones existence and they are hunkered down, unable to leave their house for the most part."

Portella says the situation is especially hard for the poor and those who rely on outside food assistance, which is nearly 80 percent of the population. President Bush and Congressional leaders support Israel's use of force and say Hamas must take the first step toward a cease-fire.

Mercy Corps has been working in the Gaza Strip since 2005 providing short-term jobs to help with the region's 50-percent unemployment rate and offering recreational programs for children.

More information about the Mercy Corps Gaza Crisis Fund can be found at www.mercycorps.org.

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA