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UN chief hopes easing of Israeli blockade will help improve lives in Gaza

17 June 2010 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today he hopes Israel’s announcement that it will ease the blockade on the Gaza Strip to allow more civilian goods to enter the territory will lead to an improvement in the lives of the 1.5 million Palestinians living there.

“The Secretary-General is encouraged that the Israeli Government is reviewing its policy towards Gaza, and he hopes that today’s decision by the Israeli security cabinet is a real step towards meeting needs in Gaza,” his spokesperson said in a statement.

Mr. Ban has asked Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordination for the Middle East Peace Process, to immediately engage the Israeli Government to learn more about the decision and the additional measures needed to implement it.

The UN chief has repeatedly called for ending the blockade, which Israel imposed on Gaza for what it called security reasons after Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, ousted the Fatah movement in the Strip in 2007.

He did so most recently in the wake of the 31 May incident in which Israel raided a six-ship convoy that was carrying humanitarian goods and activists and heading for Gaza. The operation resulted in the deaths of nine civilians and the wounding of at least 30 others, and prompted renewed calls for Israel to end the blockade.

The UN, according to today’s statement, continues to seek “a fundamental change in policy” so that humanitarian assistance, commercial goods and people are able to flow through functioning open crossings, and reconstruction can take place.

The world body stands ready to scale up its efforts to help Gaza recover and rebuild if enabled to do so, it added.

Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN agency that assists Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, reacted to Israel’s announcement by noting that anything that eases the humanitarian suffering in Gaza is a step in the right direction.

At the same time, he stressed that “for life for the Palestinians in Gaza to change, we have to end the blockade.”

Mr. Gunness described the life of an ordinary Palestinian as grim, noting that the number of people who say they cannot feed their families has tripled in the last year to 300,000.

According to a UN report released last week, the ongoing Israeli blockade undermines prospects for employment and growth in Gaza, where the economic situation remains precarious.

“The longer the closure continues, the more it undermines future prospects of workers and their families, in particular of the younger generation,” said the report, which was prepared by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the health system in Gaza is on the verge of collapse.

The blockade has meant that spare parts and replacements cannot be imported or only with great delays, engineers are unable to enter Gaza to service the equipment, and the recurrent power cuts and surges damage the delicate electronic parts of many machines.

For example, a $700,000 replacement for a derelict CT scanner for Shifa hospital in Gaza – the largest hospital in the occupied Palestinian territory – has been sitting in a warehouse in Ramallah for over six months because the supplier has not received Israel’s permission to deliver it to Gaza. It is just one of many life-saving items that are piled up in the warehouse.

“These essential items are just one example of the effects of the siege on Gaza on the health-care system,” said Tony Laurance, the head of the WHO office for the West Bank and Gaza.



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