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Urgent action needed to alleviate desperate plight of Gaza’s civilians – UN rights expert

Urgent action needed to alleviate desperate plight of Gaza’s civilians – UN rights expert

Food aid being distributed at UNRWA's food centre, Beach Camp, Gaza Strip
Steps to alleviate the “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza must be taken immediately, an independent United Nations human rights expert said today, calling on the world body to turn its words into action.

In a statement, Richard Falk, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, among other top officials, have voiced their concerns over the “desperate plight” of Gaza’s civilian population.

“And still Israel maintains its Gaza siege in its full fury, allowing only barely enough food and fuel to enter to stave off mass famine and disease,” he said, characterizing the policy as one of “collective punishment.”

Acknowledging the potential political difficulties, Mr. Falk said “it is time to act,” adding that at the very least, the UN should make efforts to implement the principle of a “responsibility to protect.”

A limited amount of food entered Gaza today. Ten trucks of flour for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) was brought in while the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) managed to get in three trucks of tinned meat and three of cooking oil. But this is still not enough, UNRWA warned.

The agency will hold its annual pledging conference tomorrow at UN Headquarters in New York. Its general budget requirements for 2009 amount to nearly $550 million for education, health, social support and microfinance services. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged Member States to fully fund the budget to maintain essential services for 4.6 million registered Palestine refugees.

Last week, UNRWA Commissioner General Karen AbuZayd opened a year-long series of events in Jerusalem to mark the agency’s 60th anniversary on 8 December.

“Closures in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza add to the terrifying sense of being trapped, physically, intellectually and emotionally, depriving children of that simplest of rights, the right to be a child,” said Ms. AbuZayd.

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, UNRWA was established by the General Assembly to carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestine refugees.