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 CNS Story:

CARITAS-APPEAL Jan-6-2009 (540 words) With photos. xxxi

President of Caritas Internationalis calls for Gaza cease-fire

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, president of Caritas Internationalis, called for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip to allow the wounded and their physicians to reach the region's hospitals.

"Caritas calls for action from the United States, the European Union and the international community to press for an immediate cease-fire to enable the sick and wounded to be treated," said the cardinal, the archbishop of Tegucigalpa, in a statement Jan. 5.

"War cannot be justified either by Israel or by Hamas," the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, the cardinal said.

Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella organization for 162 national Catholic charities, also called for the immediate opening of two more crossings into the Gaza Strip so that medical and other aid can reach the region's people.

The Caritas statement quoted Claudette Habesch, secretary-general of Caritas Jerusalem, as saying: "Our staff in Gaza are witnessing a collapse of medical services. People are dying in their homes because they can't get treatment."

Cardinal Rodriguez noted that more than 100 innocent civilians, including children, have been killed and thousands have been injured since Israel began its offensive in late December.

"Innocent people are suffering because aid agencies cannot reach them due to the Israeli military action," he said.

The Caritas statement said it was unsafe for people to move around in Gaza, meaning both doctors and the injured cannot reach the clinics and doctors cannot reach the homes of the injured.

Food, medicine and other relief items already were lacking because of the 18-month-long Israeli blockade of Gaza, Caritas said.

Caritas Internationalis is providing primary medical services through Caritas Jerusalem and Holy Family Parish in Gaza City, the statement said. A medical center and a series of aid stations remained operational, although with difficulty, but the mobile clinic has had to remain stationary.

Local staffers for the U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services, which works with the Caritas network, were among those unable to move around Gaza because of the Israeli incursion, said Matthew Davis, CRS country representative for Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

"They are staying home taking care of their families," he told Catholic News Service.

"The continued insecurity of the environment makes the coordination of aid distribution incredibly difficult," he said. "There is a need for a permanent and sustainable humanitarian space and a need for access to supplies and staff and the ability to distribute aid and make assessments."

Davis said the U.N. coordinating body for humanitarian affairs was hosting a meeting of nongovernmental agencies late Jan. 5.

He noted that Israel has not permitted humanitarian workers into Gaza since Nov. 4 because of what they deemed to be security issues.

"The Israeli ground invasion has turned everything upside down and made things even more complicated," he said. "It is going from bad to worse."

He added that CRS is making arrangements for local purchases of food parcels and nonfood items once distribution becomes possible.

In late December, Israel began airstrikes against Gaza in an effort to stop Palestinian militants from launching rockets into its southern region; Israel began a ground invasion Jan. 3.

- - -

Contributing to this story was Judith Sudilovsky in Jerusalem.

END


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