The United Nations and its diplomatic partners in the search for peace in the Middle East today voiced concern about the continuing blockade of the Gaza Strip, saying that while efforts over the past year have boosted conditions in the area, “considerably more” needs to be done.
The Middle East Quartet, which comprises the UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States, issued a statement in which the four members said the conditions faced by Gaza's civilian population – estimated at around 1.5 million – were “unsustainable.”
Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza for what it said were security reasons after Hamas, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist, ousted the Fatah movement in the Strip in 2007.
Last month Israel approved building materials for new homes and schools to be constructed in Gaza by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In June last year Israel also started allowing more civilian goods into Gaza while restricting access to concrete, iron and other materials.
In today's statement, the Quartet noted that “efforts have improved conditions over the last year,” citing a marked increase in the range and scope of goods and materials into Gaza, an increase in international project activity, and the facilitation of some exports.
They commended Israel's recent approval of building materials, but added that “considerably more needs to be done to increase the flow of people and goods to and from Gaza, including a liberalization of the market in aggregate, steel bar and cement.”
Quartet members also urged Israel to fully implement its decision in June 2010 to ease the blockade and to take “further meaningful steps to improve the situation in Gaza,” adding that they would work through the Quartet Representative Tony Blair and others to ensure that the needs of Gazans are being met.
Today's statement stressed that Israel has legitimate security concerns that must also continue to be safeguarded, and the Quartet members said they were committed to working with Israel, Egypt and the international community to prevent the illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza.
“Efforts to maintain security while enabling movement and access for Palestinian people and goods are critical,” the statement added.
“In this context, the Quartet strongly urges all those wishing to deliver goods to the people of Gaza to do so through established channels so that their cargo can be inspected and transferred via established land crossings.
“The Quartet regrets the injury and deaths caused by the 2010 flotilla, urges restraint and calls on all governments concerned to use their influence to discourage additional flotillas, which risk the safety of their participants and carry the potential for escalation.”
In addition, the Quartet reiterated its calls for an end to the detention of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held captive by Palestinian militants for the past five years.