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UN relief chief warns on deteriorating conditions facing Palestinians

UN relief chief warns on deteriorating conditions facing Palestinians

The humanitarian situation inside the occupied Palestinian territory is deteriorating every day, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator said today, warning that Israel’s threat to cut electricity and fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip if rocket attacks continue will only worsen the situation.

John Holmes, who is also Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, told journalists in Geneva that restrictions in Gaza and the West Bank were making it harder and harder for normal economic activity to be maintained, especially in Gaza.

“The squeeze was tightening all the time,” he said, noting that while the UN had been able to get more than 3,000 truckloads of humanitarian aid into Gaza in July, only 1,508 truckloads made it through last month.

The main crossing point into Gaza for goods, Karni, has been closed since June, he said, with only one conveyor belt available twice a week. One of the two smaller crossing points for goods, Sufa, is also expected to be closed by the end of this month. The major crossing point for people, Rafah, has also been closed since June.

Mr. Holmes also said the number of Palestinian patients allowed to cross into Israel for health care had fallen from 40 a day in July to less than five a day in September.

“Denial of freedom of movement for medical reasons would appear to be a breach of international humanitarian law,” he said.

The Under-Secretary-General said that while the UN condemned ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel, he was concerned that Israel was threatening to cut off electricity and fuel supplies if they continued.

“It did not appear to be an appropriate response to those rocket attacks to punish the population of Gaza.”

He called on Israel to lift its economic blockade on Gaza and relax its restrictions on humanitarian aid, in part to improve the chances of progress at Israeli-Palestinian talks scheduled to take place in the United States next month.

Given the conditions inside both Gaza and the West Bank, the population increasingly depends on outside aid to survive, he said.

“That is not a good situation for their livelihoods, their dignity and the possibility of their participating in any kind of peace process.”

Mr. Holmes’ warning comes a day after the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe told the Security Council about the humanitarian situation that Palestinians face and the potential impact of further Israeli restrictions.