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OPT: Gaza Crisis - Fighting confines residents, obstructs aid

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As fighting between Palestinian political groups Hamas and Fatah continues in areas of the Gaza Strip, humanitarian agencies remain unable to make adequate assessments or deliver aid to residents who are without basic needs.

The conflict between Hamas and Fatah erupted on June 9 after Hamas forcibly took control of Fatah security posts in Gaza. So far, the violence, consisting of gunfire and use of heavy artillery, has claimed the lives of 70 people, including two United Nations aid workers, and injured more than 270 others.

"It's still not completely safe to do assessments as there is still some fighting going on," says Tom Garofalo, CRS' country representative for Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, also noting that there's limited communication and limited mobility. Last week, he described a situation so dangerous that CRS workers were confined to their homes, unable to look out of their windows for fear of being hit by stray bullets.

Garofalo says there are concerns about the potential lack of food and medical supplies since Israel decided to close its border crossings.

On June 14, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, dissolved the government and declared a state of emergency after Hamas declared victory over Gaza.

From his home in the Gaza town of Deir El Balah, CRS Jerusalem's Head of Office, Omar Shaban, says families in Gaza, including traumatized children, are suffering tremendously from this conflict, especially since the area is small and densely populated.

"Almost all of the streets in Gaza City were under fire," he says. "High buildings were used heavily by both sides. The vast majority of the victims were civilians, children and women. People were not able to reach hospitals, schools, shops, etc."

Although people are starting to trickle out from their homes, Shaban says, there is a severe shortage of basic necessities because Gaza depends heavily on Israel in obtaining goods. Due to the clashes, he says, Israel closed a major commercial terminal located at a major border crossing.

CRS has worked in the Holy Land for more than 40 years. With four offices within Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, CRS has provided a wide range of peacebuilding and aid outreach services to Palestinians, especially during troubled times.

Working with five partners in Gaza, CRS focuses on youth leadership initiatives in hopes of instilling the values of peace and democracy.

The agency also provides tuition subsidies for 500 college students whose parents were left out of work when the international community placed aid sanctions on the Hamas-led government last year.

"Education is really a critical focus for their [the Palestinians'] future. No matter how bad things get, if they are able to keep their kids in school, then they haven't lost everything," Garofalo says.

The clash between Fatah and Hamas has left the population uncertain of their future.

"Right now they are really shocked. The usual parameters of their lives have been altered," Garofalo says. "They used to fear foreign occupiers. Now they are fearing violence from their own young men."

In the time leading up to the outbreak of fighting, Palestinians, especially those working toward peace, expressed disappointment and what Garofalo calls "disgust" toward the infighting, which has further eroded hopes for peace.

"They are desperate to have an end to the violence and to have hope that someday the wider conflicts will be resolved," says Garofalo.