Gaza a true war zone, says Kiwi rescuer

GROWING CONFLICT: Levin woman Gail Corbett, far right, amid the chaos in Gaza.
GROWING CONFLICT: Levin woman Gail Corbett, far right, amid the chaos in Gaza.

A Levin woman working for the Red Cross in Gaza says the chaos is worse than any other hot spot she has been in.

Gail Corbett, 52, is seconded to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as a health delegate in the Middle East conflict.

Her job involves ensuring ambulances and hospitals are kept supplied with equipment for looking after weapon-wounded patients and negotiating safe passage for ambulances and medical staff.

Corbett has been in Gaza since January last year, and previously Afghanistan and Iraq.

But in the past two weeks the situation had reached a "completely different level" to her experiences in those areas.

"In some places I can only describe it as a war zone," she said from Gaza.

"There might be a couple of buildings completely intact, then there's another one that's just been flattened."

Many roads were almost impossible to drive through because of all the rubble.

"It takes a lot of co-ordination to try and get into those areas, you need to make sure you've got the bulldozer to go first and then all the ambulances."

In the 18 months she had been in Gaza she had watched the conflict gradually increasing.

"You hear there's more rockets being launched and then it just suddenly takes off.

"Maybe six weeks ago there was a period of very, very calm, then it got a little bit more active, then suddenly it was very active, and then in the last week it's been extremely active."

The numbers of wounded people trying to get to hospital had "skyrocketed".

"It's put a big strain on a system that was just coping in regular times."

Corbett said she had visited several hospitals that have been bombed and had seen the damage first hand, with equipment and ambulances damaged and destroyed, and health workers injured.

But she said she did not feel unsafe, as she worked in negotiated windows of time where combatants were meant to stop firing.

"We're not rushing out when things are still really hot and active, it's a considered process. You're always assessing risk every step of the way."

To deal with the stress of working in a conflict zone, the ICRC had a system of rotating workers out for days at a time to enable them to recharge, Corbett said.

She also tried to talk to her mother in Levin every day on Skype.

"The support from my friends and family in New Zealand has been extremely appreciated and helpful - it's good to know everybody's there," she said.

Corbett said that since the crisis began three weeks ago, more than 1000 people had been killed, with more than 900 of them Palestinians, and more than 40 Israelis. The dead include at least 170 children and 86 women.

More than 5500 Palestinians have been wounded and 140,000 have fled their homes.

The Dominion Post