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International Committee Of The Red Cross Director On Hurdles To Aid Gaza And Israel

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The International Committee of the Red Cross is providing Gaza with humanitarian aid - extra medical supplies and repairs to water and electricity infrastructure destroyed in an 11-day war between Hamas and Israel last month. But the ICRC warns that humanitarian aid, which is now preventing the collapse of some essential services in Gaza, is not a sustainable solution. Those words come from ICRC director-general Robert Mardini. He has just been on a tour of areas affected by the war in both Israel and Gaza, and he joins us now from Jerusalem.

Welcome.

ROBERT MARDINI: Good afternoon.

SHAPIRO: You were just in Gaza yesterday, I understand. Tell us what it looked like there.

MARDINI: Yeah, I've been in Gaza. I visited many locations where, unfortunately, destruction impacted civilian population. I visited a farmer whose water system was damaged by the fighting. And, of course, this has a cascading effect on his ability to produce crops and will threaten his livelihood.

I also visited a neighborhood where buildings were flattened. I had the chance to speak with a survivor who told me how this tragic incident happened in no time, where 22 civilians that were still in the building when it was hit ended up in a couple of seconds in the rubble and died. There were women, girls, boys, men who were snatched from their peaceful lives. What I felt and sensed when I spoke with many people in the Gaza Strip was really this sense of fear, of trauma, of anger, of helplessness because there is a crisis also of hope and difficult to see how the future can be made of it.

SHAPIRO: And I know the devastation is not comparable, but I understand you also toured areas in southern Israel that were affected by Hamas rockets. What did you see there?

MARDINI: Well, I had the chance to speak this morning with a volunteer from the Magen David Adom who really saved lives and were able to work 24/7 over the past 11 days. And finally, the sense of fear and unpredictability was also felt by them when they worked and tried to evacuate the wounded there. And, of course, it's not comparable in terms of impact and magnitude of the destruction, but in terms of sheer panic and trauma, it's very much there. And for us at ICRC, every civilian killed or maimed is really one too many.

SHAPIRO: Now, as I mentioned, you said that humanitarian aid that is going to Gaza right now is not a sustainable solution. What is necessary?

MARDINI: Well, I think what is really necessary here is the political leadership across the board because the current - the status quo is not sustainable because, you know, any ceasefire is only buying time until the next round of escalation. And unless the root causes of this conflict are solved in a sustainable and courageous way, I fear that I will be visiting again the Gaza Strip to see firsthand yet again other devastation, human tragedies, lives and livelihoods disrupted.

SHAPIRO: And yet since the last conflict in 2014, it seems that the kind of long-term solution you're talking about, one that involves diplomacy and political difficult choices - that's become farther away, not more within reach.

MARDINI: Unfortunately. But we need to keep hope. And there is a sense of fatigue across Israel and Palestine today. And I feel from many civilians with whom I discussed that there is an appetite to really live peacefully.

SHAPIRO: To return to the challenges of doing the humanitarian work that the ICRC does in Gaza, can you tell us about the hurdles that are distinct to this region, whether that's limitations on what can be brought in or working with Hamas and making sure that supplies go to humanitarian purposes?

MARDINI: No, absolutely. This remains a big challenge. And let's not forget that life in the Gaza Strip was already challenging before this recent round of escalation and military operations. It is an area where there is restriction on movement. There is restriction on importing goods, construction materials inside Gaza. And all our humanitarian activities are challenging to implement because we need to overcome these procedures. So any material that could be used for military purposes is, of course, scrutinized.

This is a legitimate concern that we understand, but it takes more time, and we need to find other solutions. You know, pipes for water projects are sensitive. Some materials such as glue for our prostheses and ortheses are also sensitive because they could be used for other purposes and so forth. So we need to find always alternative solutions, and it takes time and energy.

SHAPIRO: That's Robert Mardini, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, speaking with us from Jerusalem.

Thank you so much.

MARDINI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.