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Restrictions on Gaza crossing points hurting Palestinians, says UN official

Restrictions on Gaza crossing points hurting Palestinians, says UN official

David Shearer
The humanitarian situation inside the Gaza Strip could worsen unless Israel eases the restrictions and closures at its border crossings with the strife-torn area, a senior United Nations official warned today.

David Shearer, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory, told reporters at a briefing at UN Headquarters in New York that Gaza only has enough supplies of wheat flour to make bread for the next two to three weeks.

“The situation we have at the moment is an extremely serious one,” Mr. Shearer said, noting that about 1.4 million Palestinians are already crowded into Gaza’s relatively small 360-square-kilometre area.

Gaza has been largely cut off from the outside world since deadly intra-Palestinian fighting between members of the Fatah and Hamas movements erupted earlier this month, although in the past few days Israel has allowed some relief supplies – including food and medicines – to be brought in by truck.

But Mr. Shearer said the aid supplies must be complemented by commercial deliveries to meet the local demand for staples. OCHA has estimated that 450 tons of flour is required in Gaza each day.

“As a series of agencies in the UN, we cannot support the whole of the Gaza Strip with aid flows. The market has to be able to work, and at the moment it is not working.”

He called for the re-opening of the Karni crossing, which used to handle 200 to 300 trucks each day and was the main commercial crossing point into Gaza.

Meanwhile, the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) today welcomed the United States’ announcement that it would

Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd said the funds would be used to provide food aid, temporary jobs, health care and other basic services to refugees in Gaza and the West Bank.

The UNRWA appeal remains severely under-funded, however. After the US donation, the agency – which assists more than 4.3 million refugees across Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria – is still $136 million short of its $246 million target for 2007.