The top United Nations humanitarian official today voiced concern over the ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip, restrictions on the building of Palestinian homes in the West Bank and the long-running captivity of an Israeli soldier, at the beginning of a five-day trip to the region.
John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, arrived in Jerusalem on Sunday to review the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory more than one year after the end of the three-week Israeli military offensive in Gaza, which had the stated aim of stopping attacks by Hamas militants.
In his meetings with senior Israeli officials today, Mr. Holmes commended the country’s recent response to the earthquake in Haiti, in particular the very early deployment of a field hospital, and both sides agreed to work to strengthen cooperation between the UN and Israel in this area.
Mr. Holmes also underscored the need to lift barriers into Gaza to allow Palestinians to begin to reconstruct their shattered buildings, and restart their lives and livelihoods, in particular through the redevelopment of a viable private sector.
Despite Israel’s recent approval for the import of truckloads of glass to address the needs of people living with shattered windows in winter, Mr. Holmes made it clear that such moves were far from sufficient to make a significant impact on the problems confronted by the 1.5 million people living in Gaza.
He also noted that the present situation only helped perpetuate smuggling through tunnels, which was undermining the legitimate economy of Gaza.
In a meeting with Noam Shalit, Mr. Holmes repeated UN calls for the immediate release of his son – the Israeli soldier Gilad Shilat who has been held by Hamas since June 2006.
While in Ramallah, the UN official expressed concern about the situation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, not least the so-called Area C, which covers 60 per cent of the West Bank and remains largely off limits to Palestinians.
Representatives of Palestinian civil society in Ramallah briefed Mr. Holmes on the situation in the area, including the difficulties faced by businesses, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and others due to the restrictions imposed on them.
Mr. Holmes will travel to Gaza and Tel Aviv, as well as visit parts of Area C and East Jerusalem before concluding his mission on Friday.