Catholic Relief Services calls for ‘immediate cessation of violence’ in Gaza to allow aid — By: Catholic News Agency

A woman sits with a child by drying laundry outside a classroom at a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Nov. 14, 2023, where internally displaced Palestinians have taken refuge amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. / Credit: SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Nov 16, 2023 / 13:53 pm (CNA).

An executive with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) this week called for an “immediate cessation of violence” in the Gaza Strip so that the humanitarian organization and other groups can deliver direly needed supplies to civilians in the region. 

Bill O’Keefe, CRS executive vice president for mission and mobilization, told “EWTN News Nightly” host Tracy Sabol Wednesday that the agency has been “hearing from a number of places in Gaza about just how serious the conditions are for the 1.5 million displaced people” there. 

O’Keefe said CRS does not have staff at Al-Shifa Hospital, where fighting has been taking place. According to Israel, Hamas maintains a base of operations in tunnels beneath the medical complex. 

But CRS is “supporting four churches in Gaza … which are serving as temporary shelter locations for thousands of people,” O’Keefe said. 

“And they are running out of food, running out of water, and are surrounded in an area that is under constant bombardment,” he said.

“I can only assume that people in the hospital compound are experiencing exactly the same sort of thing that the Christian community and their Muslim brothers and sisters who are sheltering with them in these churches are experiencing,” he said. “It’s really a terrible situation.”

O’Keefe said CRS has several dozen workers in Gaza “who, although their families are displaced, they’re continuing to serve their community.” 

“It’s really an amazing testament to their courage and commitment to their community,” he said. “They are providing electronic vouchers, kind of like a debit card, that allow people to get those last supplies from those stores that still have a little bit left.” 

“We’ve helped over 100,000 people, or close to 100,000 people, since the beginning of the war,” he said. “The U.N. is trying to assist. But they’re all running out of fuel, they’re all running out of electricity, and without fuel, as you would imagine, it’s impossible to deliver supplies, it’s impossible even for the Internet to work without electricity. And so things are really beginning to shut down. We’re very concerned.”

O’Keefe said the aid group’s biggest concern is that “it is impossible to distribute [aid] without a cessation of violence.” 

“There needs to be an immediate cessation of violence so that CRS and other groups can really bring in and establish a humanitarian operation for, really, the entire 2.4 million people in Gaza,” he said. 

“They are surrounded in a location — there’s nowhere to go. There’s no safe place. The water has been cut off. The food has been cut off. And we absolutely need to have the water turned on, electricity turned on, fuel, food, and then a cessation of violence so that we and other groups can provide for people.”

O’Keefe said he has heard from one staff member, a nursing mother, who is “in an apartment with 20 people sharing one jerry can of water per day. That gives her 8 ounces of water per day for her and for her infant who she’s nursing. That’s just obviously an impossible situation.” 

“And hundreds of thousands of others are in the same case,” he said. “So we’re calling for an immediate cessation of violence and a greatly expanded humanitarian effort.”

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