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Israeli blockages still hampering aid delivery to Palestinians, UN agencies say

Israeli blockages still hampering aid delivery to Palestinians, UN agencies say

Israeli checkpoints and other blockages are hampering the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the occupied Palestinian territories, representatives of key United Nations aid agencies working in the Middle East said today.

Speaking at a press briefing in Geneva, a spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said the entire Gaza Strip was currently under "economic strangulation," as it was divided into three parts, with internal checkpoints which were closed most of the time. All movement inside the Gaza Strip was severely restricted, while only international staff could go from Gaza to Israel.

The movement of goods was also "very, very limited," said Rene Aquarone, noting that there were serious shortages of food, cement and animal fodder. UNRWA had loaned 250 tons of flour to the Palestinian Authority to sell to bakeries for bread, but a result of the shortage of cement, 54 of the Agency's 67 employment generation projects were suspended.

On the West Bank, the centre of Bethlehem was still under a curfew lifted every five or six days, Mr. Aquarone said. During those "windows of opportunity," UNRWA and other UN agencies attempted to deliver food and medical supplies. In Nablus, which had been the object of considerable destruction, the body count was quite high. In Jenin, where an area of about the size of four football fields had been completely flattened, UNRWA estimates that $41.3 million would be needed to reconstruct the camp.

The UN Assistant Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ross Mountain, who has just returned from a mission to the occupied territories, said both the Palestinians and the humanitarian agencies faced problems of access. Noting that closures deprived all Palestinians who had been working in Israel of their income, he said the signs were not good that the closures policy would soon be relaxed.

Meanwhile a spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP) said that security restrictions had prevented the agency from reaching many Palestinians. WFP was currently negotiating with the Israeli authorities for access into the territories to distribute of food.

In a related development, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official met in Ramallah yesterday with the Deputy Palestinian Health Minister, who voiced concern over problems arising from restrictions on the movement of health workers, as well as shortages of vaccinations and potential dangers posed by the drinking water.