UN refugee agency urges Israel to lift Gaza closures


    Agence France-Presse (AFP), September 28th, 2007


    Photo: © Stefania Zamparelli. A Street in Gaza.

JERUSALEM: The United Nations agency in charge of Palestinian refugees on Friday called on Israel to open crossings into the Gaza Strip and warned of a humanitarian crisis if further restrictions are imposed.

“We don’t believe that just having humanitarian goods coming in is enough, we need other supplies to come in. People need other things besides food and medicine,” UNRWA Commissioner General Karen Abu Zayd told reporters.

Since the Islamist Hamas movement — which Israel and the West consider a terror organisation — seized control of the coastal strip in a bloody takeover in June Israel has sealed its borders, allowing in only vital goods.

The closures, which first began to tighten after Hamas emerged victorious in Palestinian elections in 2006, have forced the UNRWA to suspend 93 million dollars (66 million euros) worth of projects in the territory, Abu Zayd said.

“The difficulties in Gaza do tend to get worse every day,” Abu Zayd said, adding that the agency was preparing contingency plans should the situation deteriorate further.

On September 19 Israel branded the Hamas-run territory a “hostile entity” in a move seen as paving the way for further punitive measures aimed at halting rocket fire from the impoverished coastal strip.

The home-made rockets, which target Israeli towns on a near-daily basis, rarely wound anyone but leave the Israeli communities along the border in a perpetual state of fear.

Some Israeli officials have suggested cutting off fuel and electricity supplies to Gaza as a way of putting a “price tag” on the rocket fire, but Abu Zayd warned that such measures would place an “intolerable strain” on refugees.

“This decision, if implemented, coupled with an economy facing collapse under the burden of the closure regime will place an intolerable strain on the Palestinian refugees in Gaza,” she said in a statement given to the media.

The UNRWA is responsible for nearly 4.5 million refugees in the Palestinian territories and neighbouring countries, including more than a million in Gaza alone, one of the most overcrowded places in the world.

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