RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We turn now to an update on the humanitarian conditions in Gaza. Joining us is Chris Gunness of the UN Relief and Works Agency. He's based in Jerusalem, where he is now, and he travels to Gaza regularly. His agency provides many services there. This includes delivering food and many other essential supplies to the people in Gaza. Good morning.
Mr. CHRIS GUNNESS (UN Relief and Works Agency): Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Now, you have a field staff, a large field staff in Gaza because it's, of course, quite impoverished and in need. What are they telling you about the situation there right now?
Mr. GUNNESS: They're telling us Renee, some very, very bad things. We've compiled a very conservative list of civilian fatalities killed since Saturday, that number conservatively is 51. And we've gathered this information from hospitals and other medical facilities around Gaza. The figure is rising. There are unconfirmed reports of five little girls who were killed in Jabaliya(ph) in northern Gaza when their house was caught in the crossfire. Amid all of these sorts of civilian - anonymous civilian deaths, there was one incident at 1:20 on Saturday outside UNRWA's headquarters where eight of our students were killed instantly by flying shrapnel and flying debris. And we're calling for an impartial, independent investigation into the killing of these students. They were in their teens, and we want to know, you know, who was responsible and whether this was a violation of international humanitarian law. And that's quite an important point I'd like to make.
MONTAGNE: Just a specific thing here. How are hospitals coping?
Mr. GUNNESS: Very, very badly. Because, don't forget, in the months that preceded this military operation, the hospitals in Gaza and actually at many aid organizations were starved of essential life-saving drugs. So, even without this offensive, they were stretched to breaking point. Now, with the number of people coming into these hospitals, they are stretched frankly to breaking point. And reports in the hospitals say that basically, if you are in a life threatening condition you may be seen, but if your foot has been blown off, or you've lost a limb and you're not going to die, then it's most unlikely that you will actually be seen.
MONTAGNE: Even before this fighting, it was difficult to get aid into Gaza. How are you doing, and other aid groups that you know of, in getting aid at this point in time?
Mr. GUNNESS: It's very, very difficult. We got only four trucks of urgent medical supplies into Gaza yesterday. So far, we've heard that the crossings for other items today are going to be closed. The mills in Gaza are completely out of bread, there's no wheat going into Gaza. We give cash to some of the most impoverished people in the Middle East, in Gaza - 94,000 of them. They're not receiving cash assistance from us - even our own staff - because we can't get banknotes into Gaza - our own staff have been given half of their salary for this month. So, things are bad, and it looks like things are set to get worse.
MONTAGNE: And what gives you that idea?
Mr. GUNNESS: Well, the onslaught continues. I don't know if you will have heard or seen the pictures overnight from Gaza, but we've got very large scale bombardments of areas, you know, the most densely populated - one of the most densely populated parts of this planet. And you know, it's fine for politicians in Israel and elsewhere to say well, we're doing what we can to limit civilian casualties, but imagine if someone decided there would be an aerial bombardment of say, Manhattan, or any inner city in America. And someone said, oh and by the way we're trying very hard to limit civilian casualties. Most Americans I know would simply laugh and say that's absurd. Well, that's the situation we're facing in Gaza. There is this bombardment and we get this rhetorical promise to try and keep civilians safe, but frankly it's very difficult to make any sense of that, given the scale of the bombardment in this very densely populated part of the world.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. Chris Gunness is with the UN Relief and Works Agency, and speaking to us from Jerusalem. You're listening to Morning Edition from NPR News.