A senior United Nations official says Israel's economic blockade of the Gaza Strip does not bode well for U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace talks expected later this year. He appeals to Israel to lift restrictions on humanitarian supplies entering the Palestinian Territory. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.
U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, says the humanitarian situation in Gaza is worsening as restrictions on the entry of essential supplies tighten. In July, he says Israel allowed more than 3,000 trucks loaded with basic supplies to cross into Gaza. In September, only half that number got through.
|John Holmes gives a press briefing in Geneva on the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, 25 Oct 2007|
Israel has declared Gaza an "enemy entity," and tightened restrictions on the territory since its seizure by the Islamic militant group Hamas, which has launched repeated attacks on Israel and refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist. Israel and many western nations consider Hamas a terrorist group.
The U.N. emergency relief coordinator says as a result of the Israeli restrictions on Gaza food prices are rising, some items are in short supply and much of industry is closing down for lack of materials. In August, Holmes notes 70,000 workers were laid off in the manufacturing and construction sectors.
He says Gaza is running out of essential drugs. In July, he says about 40 emergency patients each day were allowed to leave the territory for medical treatment in Israel. In September, this number was reduced to less than five patients a day and medical supplies are running low.
"People are not dying of hunger at this moment," Holmes said. "But, in terms of medical supplies, medical access, there certainly are people who are suffering, possibly dying…because of lack of drugs, because of lack of access outside Gaza to essential treatment, which do not exist inside Gaza. But, in terms of a famine, no we are not there. But, in terms of a serious humanitarian crisis - yes, we are there already."
Holmes says the situation is different, but also difficult in the West Bank. He says people there are suffering from serious restrictions on their freedom of movement and this is having an adverse impact on their social and economic wellbeing.
He says it is difficult to reconcile the hardships experienced by people in Gaza and the West Bank with talk of political progress that is preceding the planned peace negotiations in the U.S. city of Annapolis.
"One of the objectives of those discussions is to show that there is progress on the ground," Holmes said. "If we look at the situation inside Gaza, but even inside the West Bank, it does not look as if that position is getting better. It looks as if it is getting worse with all the dangers that entails of creating an isolated and radicalized population."
Holmes says it is hard to see how this situation can be conducive to peace. He urges Israel to lift the economic blockade against Gaza and to let humanitarian supplies flow into the territory.
He says he understands and sympathizes with Israel's desire to prevent terrorist rocket attacks from Gaza. He says this is a legitimate demand. But, he says collective punishment is neither the right nor the most effective response to those attacks.