Red Cross’ race against time: bringing relief to Gaza amidst escalating violence I Exclusive interview

By Hisham Allam

Red Cross’ race against time: bringing relief to Gaza amidst escalating violence I Exclusive interview

As the situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate, multiple hospitals have faced simultaneous attacks. The Hamas-run Ministry of Health has issued a dire warning that, within a matter of hours, Gaza City and its northern areas could be left without any access to crucial medical services. Hospitals, including Al-Ayoun and the Psychiatric Hospital, have been forced to suspend operations. Furthermore, the last remaining pediatric services in the region have ceased due to the disruption to medical services at Al-Rantisi Hospital and Al-Nasser Hospital. The death toll has tragically climbed to over 10,800, with approximately 4,400 of those being children. All of this is unfolding despite Israel announcing its approval of a four-hour daily ceasefire.

In this critical context, Jessica Moussan, the International Committee of the Red Cross regional Media Relations Advisor for the Near and Middle East, has given an exclusive interview to DevelopmentAid to provide invaluable insights into the ongoing humanitarian crisis and the organization’s dedicated efforts to provide assistance and support to those profoundly affected by the conflict.

DevelopmentAid: What is the humanitarian situation like in Gaza right now?

Jessica Moussan: The humanitarian situation in Gaza is devastating and continues to deteriorate rapidly. Civilians are enduring unbearable suffering due to recent escalations in violence. Throughout Gaza, entire communities are cut off from vital services. The entire healthcare system is collapsing; medical teams have been working non-stop for weeks under horrific conditions. There is an urgent need for all sides to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and ensure the protection of civilians from harm.
The people of Gaza urgently need sustained humanitarian access to deliver desperately needed aid, including medical care, food, clean water, and shelter. With healthcare systems on the brink of collapse and basic infrastructure destroyed, every hour without aid worsens the suffering and risks more civilian lives.

DevelopmentAid: What is the International Committee of the Red Cross doing to assist the victims of violence?

Jessica Moussan: The ICRC has deployed a surgical team and is providing essential medical supplies to hospitals to assist with the response to the current violence. We are working urgently to restore critical services and support hospitals to function amidst the challenging conditions, including the supply of war surgery kits and water purification supplies.

The ICRC is actively treating the war-wounded in Gaza, with a war surgery team operating in the European Hospital of Gaza despite the severe shortage of medical supplies. Our experts, including orthopedic doctors, anesthesiologists, and theater nurses, are providing critical care under challenging conditions.

DevelopmentAid: How many surgical team members are currently in Gaza, and where are they stationed?

Jessica Moussan: On October 27th, a surgical team of six entered Gaza, including orthopedic doctors, anesthesiologists, and theater nurses. They are currently working in the European Gaza Hospital where they are treating war-wounded patients. The testimonies they share with us are harrowing. They treat patients with multiple injuries, many of them burns, which require complex and intensive medical interventions. Medical supplies are very low, and they fear that soon they may have to start operating on the wounded without anesthesia.

DevelopmentAid: What are the most serious problems facing Gaza’s hospitals?

Jessica Moussan: Gaza’s hospitals are facing severe problems, from being overwhelmed by the wounded and operating in darkness due to power shortages to dealing with damaged infrastructure. Gaza’s hospitals are struggling with a lack of electricity and fuel shortages. Medical supplies are running out. Surgical operations are being conducted under inappropriate conditions. Medical staff, working tirelessly and often without knowing the fate of their own families, are also experiencing physical and mental exhaustion.

While evacuation warnings are a requirement under international humanitarian law, they must be timely, clear, and must provide a safe way for patients and staff to evacuate. In Gaza, the reality is that not everyone can evacuate, and the ICRC calls on all parties to ensure that healthcare facilities are spared from harm and protected at all times.

DevelopmentAid: The Rafah Crossing was opened to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza and although international donors announced millions in aid, serious shortages of aid continue to be reported daily. How do you assess this situation from inside Gaza?

Jessica Moussan: By earlier today, 765 trucks with humanitarian aid had entered Gaza through the Rafah Crossing. This is barely a drop in the ocean of the needs in Gaza especially when we consider that on average 500 trucks previously entered Gaza to try to meet the needs. Our teams are witnessing a scarcity of water, people running out of food and having to ration between themselves. Families are struggling to find the most basic food. Parents have to sacrifice their meals to feed their children.

DevelopmentAid: What are the most difficult challenges that ICRC is encountering in providing relief to Gaza?

Jessica Moussan: The ICRC coordinates closely with all parties to ensure that assistance is delivered impartially and reaches those in dire need, prioritizing the most vulnerable populations and ensuring that aid distribution is not hindered by ongoing conflict or blockades.

Nonetheless, we are faced with immense challenges, from operating under frequent violence that risks the lives of medical workers to managing with scant resources. The inability to secure safe and regular aid delivery due to blockades compounds the difficulty in providing relief.

DevelopmentAid: Does the ICRC mainly focus its support on hospitals or does it also operate in other sectors?

Jessica Moussan: So far, we have provided medical supplies to nine health facilities, covering over 10,700 patients in Gaza. Our surgical team is operating at the European Gaza Hospital, and we have provided war-surgery kits to treat up to 5,000 patients. We have also provided more than 1,000 liters of IV fluids for emergency health facilities in the West Bank.

Beyond the medical scope, we have provided essential household items to 27,300 internally displaced persons in Gaza. We have also delivered clean water and chlorine tablets to purify water, enabled access to clean water for 250,000 people in Gaza City and Deir Al Balah, and provided fuel to keep critical water and health facilities running.

Among other services, we have provided forensic items to medical teams in both Gaza and Israel.

DevelopmentAid: Has the ICRC been in contact with the conflicting sides to try to improve the humanitarian situation? If so, what are the ICRC’s requests or recommendations?

Jessica Moussan: The ICRC constantly engages with the relevant authorities in its usual bilateral and confidential dialogue. We have repeatedly called on both sides to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and protect civilians from harm. We have asked that hospitals, humanitarian workers, and medical personnel be protected. We have asked that the wounded and sick be protected in all circumstances. We have asked for hostages to be released.

Moreover, we have called for safe and sustained humanitarian access to be able to respond to the enormous humanitarian needs in Gaza.

DevelopmentAid: Since the war broke out on 7 October, Israel has repeatedly called on the ICRC to visit the hostages said to be held by Hamas militants. Has the ICRC managed to provide any support to these hostages?

Jessica Moussan: The ICRC has a continuous dialogue with Hamas on humanitarian issues including firstly the release of hostages but also having access to them, visiting them, and being allowed to pass on news to their families. This is a matter of priority for the ICRC. Even though our attempts have remained unsuccessful, we will continue to do all in our power to gain access to those taken hostage.

DevelopmentAid: What happened on Tuesday when the ICRC convoy en route to Gaza came under fire? What were the contents of the convoy and where was its destination?

Jessica Moussan: On Tuesday, a convoy of five trucks and two ICRC vehicles was hit by fire, leaving one of our drivers injured, and two trucks damaged. Our convoy was close to the Al Quds Hospital of the Palestine Red Crescent Society to deliver lifesaving medical supplies. This is unacceptable, international humanitarian law is clear when it comes to the protection of humanitarian workers at all times. After the incident, the convoy had to reroute and go to Al Shifa Hospital to deliver the medical supplies. Our convoy then accompanied six ambulances with critically wounded patients to the Rafah Crossing.

DevelopmentAid: All aid organizations operating in Gaza have reported an inability, at least temporarily, to keep in touch with their staff and, unfortunately, casualties among their staff. What of the Red Cross?

Jessica Moussan: We are always deeply worried about the safety of our staff and of all civilians in areas of hostilities when we cannot reach them. Without information and telecommunications, people just don’t know where to go for safety. When means of communication are suspended, this impedes humanitarian and medical personnel from working effectively. The life-saving act of calling an ambulance becomes impossible. This only adds to the huge burden and creates another unnecessary challenge for the people in Gaza.

See also: Relief worker: Gaza has become a large cemetery… “The war must end now” | Exclusive interview