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Saturday, 20 December 2014

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Cumbrian aid worker tells of suffering in Gaza

A Cumbrian aid worker who recently left Gaza has spoken of the appalling human cost of Israel’s military action there and how ordinary Palestinians are bearing the brunt.

Since the offensive began on July 8, at least 1,450 Palestinians have been killed, most of them civilians. The war has also claimed 58 Israeli lives, 56 of them soldiers.

In an exclusive interview, former Brampton woman Ruth Allan, 33, has told how her friends and former colleagues in Gaza City are caught up in the horror.

Now living in Jerusalem, the former William Howard School pupil was until a month ago working for an aid agency in Gaza, where she got to know many Palestinians.

She spoke passionately of the plight of Gazans, saying Israel’s blockade of the area had turned it into an “open air prison” from which its citizens could find no escape.

For the first time yesterday, many displaced Palestinians were able to return to their neighbourhoods as a 72-hour cease-fire got underway.Many found their homes reduced to rubble.

Ruth said: “I’m getting text messages and telephone calls from people there and I’ve tried to give encouragement and strength to people who for the last 25 days have been having a very difficult time

“I’ve never before met such strong and optimistic people but they feel very much that this is not a justified war; and that the ongoing problems are related very much to the continuing blockade of Gaza.

“What’s happening isn’t fair. Almost everyone being attacked – by air, by sea, and on the ground – are normal people, like my mum, my grandma and my best friend.

“They’re normal people with normal jobs: teachers, doctors, people working in shops; people with children. They want to escape from this life-threatening situation but they can’t because of the blockade; and what makes it so difficult is that there are a huge number of agreements in international law to protect these normal people, who are civilians; to protect hospitals and schools.

“But that’s not happening, so I feel there’s a moral obligation to speak out about the unfair and unjust things that are happening.”

Just hours before Ruth spoke, 20 Gazan refugees were killed when an Israeli tank shell which ripped into a UN run school where civilians were sheltering.

The attack prompted the accusation that Israel had committed a war crime.

Ruth said: “One of my friends in Gaza called me in the middle of the night: she was sheltering under the stairs with her three-year-old son. He was crying and she said to me that they were really frightened.

“She asked me what people outside were doing to make it stop, and it was really difficult to answer that question.

“I had a text message from another friend who said that her apartment block had just been attacked.

“Everybody I know over there has lost a family member, including children.”

Ruth, who studied at University College London and the London School of Economics and Political Science, said there was no justification for Hamas firing shells into Israel, but she pointed out that many Palestinians feel desperate because of the continuing economic blockade.

Critics say the tactic is suffocating Gaza, withering its economy as it prevents any free flow of goods and people across the border.

It has transformed Gaza into what now feels like an “open air prison”, said Ruth.

The population is suffering because it is being denied access to clean water supplies, according to some expert reports.

“They have to end the blockade,” added Ruth, who hopes soon to be able to work again in Gaza.

Israel vowed this week to continue its operation in Gaza until the tunnels constructed by Hamas were destroyed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel was determined to destroy the tunnels – used to attack troops and towns – “with or without a ceasefire”.

Commenting on the attack at the UN-run school, Government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel would apologise if it discovered it was responsible. He said: “We have a policy: we don’t target civilians.”

Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart, who chairs the Commons Defence Select Committee, said: “The level of civilians casualties [in Gaza] is astonishing. I can’t see a justification for that number of civilian casualties.”

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