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Assessments postponed, staff lose homes

West Bank and Gaza, November 21, 2012

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  • Assessments postponed, staff lose homes

After rumors of a cease-fire that never materialized yesterday, Gazans spent another sleepless night under even heavier bombardment from Israel, according to Mercy Corps team leaders there. We spoke with them today at 6:00 p.m. local time, when they reported increasingly difficult conditions to navigate and plan aid to affected families.

"Military is amassing on the border. There is much confusion and panic. We are expecting more bombardment," said Aleksander Milutinovic, our Mission Director in the region. This after news of a bus bombing in Israel that injured at least 22 civilians.

"This has been worse than anything," he continued, "the massive number of airstrikes. The houses are shaking and we feel the pain. At this point, it is very difficult to do anything,"

"The world waits for cease-fire before much can be done," added Stuart Willcuts, the head of our ongoing community assistance program in Gaza.

His comment proved prescient when a truce was announced just an hour later. The cease-fire took effect at 9:00 p.m. local time (2:00 p.m. ET).

Teams are watching to see how this news plays out and are ready to immediately begin responding to humanitarian needs on a larger scale. We will continue to get frequent updates as the situation evolves.

Here is the latest report of today's situation on the ground, before the cease-fire was announced:

  • Assessments by phone have been postponed due to fears of using cell phones. The Israeli Defense Forces have been calling people to warn them of bombings or tell them to leave their homes. Many people are no longer answering the phone or become angry or scared when they do, not trusting that the calls are from Mercy Corps staff rather than the IDF. Our team members are also afraid of being labeled Israeli spies, since Hamas has been accusing people of collecting information and executing them.

  • We will begin distributing aid packages of food and other essential items to an initial 300 families on Friday. Staff managed to connect with upwards of 1,000 families to find out their needs before assessments were postponed.

  • Three of our approximately 100 team members have lost their homes to shelling. Two others were forced to leave damaged houses, and several more have lost close family members. For the first time, many staff have asked about psychological assistance for themselves and their children. "That tells you the stress of this event," Aleksander remarked. "We've never seen so many staff suffer such significant loss. Everyone is affected somehow."

  • We continue to work with our partners to prepare a wider response when conditions improve. We are monitoring U.N. food supplies and foresee a need to provide water distributions and infrastructure repairs. We are prepared to restart our cash-for-work activities and psychosocial support program within 24 hours of a cease-fire.