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Catholic Aid Official: Agencies Try to “Pick Up the Pieces” in Gaza

Two Palestinian sisters walk among the rubble of their destroyed home in the Gaza Strip on 12 August. A senior Catholic aid official said humanitarians are “trying to pick of the pieces” of Gaza’s badly destroyed infrastructure, hoping that the truce between Israel and the militant Hamas will hold. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)  

17 Aug 2014 – By Dale Gavlak

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — A senior Catholic aid official said humanitarian agencies are “trying to pick up the pieces” of Gaza’s badly destroyed infrastructure, desperately hoping that the declared truce between Israel and the militant Hamas will hold.

“It’s difficult to explain the gravity of the situation,” said Sami El-Yousef, regional director of the Jerusalem office of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

El-Yousef told Catholic News Service in a phone interview that the initial cease-fire in early August allowed aid workers to get out for the first time in more than a month to assess the extent of the damage from intensive bombardment and shelling.

“We’re trying to pick up the pieces of the infrastructure, water, sanitation, electricity. Food and water supplies are running low, there is significant damage to the infrastructure, homes and other buildings,” he said. “It’s going to take a very, very long time before Gaza gets back on its own two feet.”

The CNEWA official said he and others are “clinging to the hope” the cease-fire “will hold and eventually we get to the root cause of all this mess. Otherwise, we will enter this cycle again and again.”

As the extent of the devastation wrought on the coastal strip emerges so, too, have some of the stories unfolded of both bittersweet miracles and tragedies.

El-Yousef said that, in March, CNEWA had just completed restoration of the Gaza City residence of the Sisters of the Incarnate Word, damaged in an earlier conflict. During the most recent conflict, the bedrooms were struck by shelling.

“But there was actually a miracle in the making,” he said. “Had the sisters been in the house at the time — they were evacuated a bit earlier — something very bad would have happened.”

Still, the nuns, the handicapped children in their care and Father Jorge Hernandez, the lone parish priest in Gaza, are all safe. Father Hernandez travels throughout the strip helping with aid distribution and carrying out pastoral visits, El-Yousef said.

Many others have been less fortunate.

El-Yousef recounted learning about the recent death of a nurse serving at the Anglican Al Ahli Arab Hospital, the only Christian hospital in Gaza, which serves the entire community.

“She had been working for a long stretch and was released to go for a home rest for two days,” he said. “The day she went home her house was targeted by a missile. She, her mother-in-law and father-in-law were killed in the attack. Only her two young children survived. I felt awful to hear this news.”

El-Yousef said Jeries Ayyad, a Christian injured when a missile struck his house in July, was clinging to life after being transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Jerusalem. Jeries had burns on approximately 90 percent of his body. He has had amputations to both of his legs and has had three strokes.

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