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UN on Gaza: "People are going to start getting hungry"

Nov. 15, 2008 2:59 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 15, 2008 2:59 P.M.)
Gaza - Ma'an - The situation in the Gaza Strip is shifting from "collective punishment to genocide," said Jamal Al-Khudari, member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and head of the popular committee against the siege in Gaza.

The trickle of humanitarian aid previously allowed into Gaza, on which 80 percent of the population depended, has now been stopped for nine days by the Israeli army. The delivery of medical supplies and industrial fuel donated by the EU has also been blocked. The fuel was needed to power Gaza's sole power plant, which has now shut down, leading to rolling blackouts throughout Gaza.

UNRWA storehouses in Gaza are empty and Israel has refused to let emergency supplies through to the UN agency, which is responsible for providing basic goods to 750,000 Palestinians in the Strip.

Aid from the UN, the WHO and other Palestinian, Arab and international relief organizations are the main source of food for the 80% of the population in Gaza that live under poverty line and the 140,000 Gazans who are unemployed.

"People are going to start getting hungry," said U.N. spokesman Christopher Gunness.

As the crisis escalates and bakeries close due to power cuts resulting from the Israeli refusal to allow fuel into the area, the international community has come out with a wave of condemnations against the Israeli closure.

Ban Ki Moon

The office of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon released a statement on Saturday saying he is "concerned that food and other lifesaving assistance is being denied to hundreds of thousands of people, and emphasizes that measures which increase the hardship and suffering of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip as a whole are unacceptable and should cease immediately."

Oxfam

Oxfam International, one of the large international organizations that work regularly in the Gaza Strip, has condemned the Israeli decision to close the borders into Gaza.

Oxfam International Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs sent the following statement to the international press on Friday:

"World leaders must step up and exercise all their political might to break the blockade of Gaza. As a matter of humanitarian imperative, Israeli leaders must resume supplies into Gaza without further delay. If Israelis and Palestinians alike don't exert every effort now to maintain the truce which has held since last June, the result could be catastrophic for civilians both in Gaza and in nearby Israeli towns."

The European Union

Commissioner for External Relations of the European Union has also condemned the renewed Israeli blockade.

"I am profoundly concerned about the consequences for the Gazan population of the complete closure of all Gaza crossings for deliveries of fuel and basic humanitarian assistance," she said in a press statement.

"I call on Israel to re-open the crossings for humanitarian and commercial flows, in particular food and medicines. Facilitation of fuel deliveries for the Gaza Power Plant should be resumed immediately."

The EU statement further stated that "International law requires the provision of access to essential services such as electricity and clean water to the civilian population," and demanded that restraint be exercised by all parties to avoid an escalation of humanitarian suffering.

Amnesty International

The most through and to the point condemnation so far has come from a report released by Amnesty International, which called the current situation in Gaza "nothing short of collective punishment."

Amnesty urged Israeli authorities to allow the passage of vital supplies into Gaza."Israel's latest tightening of its blockade has made an already dire humanitarian situation markedly worse," the deputy director of the organization's Middle East and North Africa Program, Philip Luther, said on Friday. "It must stop immediately," Luther added.

Israeli response

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have been denying international journalists access to Gaza for over a week. On Thursday, a convoy of European diplomats was likewise refused entry.

"Gaza is cut off from the outside world. Israel is seemingly not keen on the world seeing the suffering that its blockade is causing to the one and a half million Palestinians who are virtually trapped there," Philip Luther from Amnesty said.

The breakdown last week of a five-and-a-half-month ceasefire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in Gaza has generated a renewed wave of violence. The killing of six Palestinian militants in Israeli air strikes and ground attacks on 4 November prompted a barrage of Palestinian rockets on nearby Israeli towns and villages. At least six other Palestinian militants have been killed by Israeli forces and others have been injured in recent days.

But Palestinian rocket attacks have continued. No Israeli casualties had been reported until Friday, when one Israeli was lightly wounded by shrapnel in an attack on the Israeli city of Sderot.

Prior to the ceasefire that began on 19 June, some 420 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli forces in the Gaza clashes, half of them unarmed civilians, including 80 children. In the same period, Palestinian armed groups killed 24 Israelis, 15 of them civilians, including four children, Amnesty International reported.

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