The main United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees today resumed distributing emergency food aid to 600,000 people in the Gaza Strip following a three-week suspension after Israel imposed new restrictions at the sole commercial crossing point.
The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said Israel had for the past two weeks operated workable arrangements as required under international humanitarian law that had allowed the agency to restock its Gaza supplies for another 30 days but it warned that the future of the programme remained in doubt because of new Israeli requirements.
Israel, which first imposed restrictions after two suicide bombers infiltrated Ashdod port to the north of the Gaza Strip last month, is now insisting that holes must be drilled in the two-inch wall cavities of containers leaving Gaza so that they can be searched by mini-camera, UNRWA said. The containers are not the agency’s property and such procedures will add to the costs and the delays in providing food to the needy.
The earlier restrictions had at first prevented UNRWA from transporting empty freight containers out of Gaza, causing a bottleneck that prevented 11,000 tons of food from entering from Ashdod and costing the agency $130,000 in fees.
Under normal circumstances UNRWA delivers some 250 tons of food aid per day in Gaza alone as part of a wider programme of emergency assistance to refugees initiated shortly after the outbreak of strife in the West Bank and Gaza in September 2000.
Around two-thirds of the 1.1 million Gaza Strip residents, 80 per cent of whom are refugees, are now living below the poverty line and are increasingly dependent on international humanitarian assistance.