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UN chief calls for Palestinian reconciliation, end to Israeli blockade on Gaza

Aug. 30, 2017 2:52 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 31, 2017 4:20 P.M.)
GAZA (Ma’an) -- In a visit to the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres called for Palestinian national reconciliation and demanded that Israel’s decade-long blockade on the territory be lifted, describing life in the besieged coastal enclave as "one of the most dramatic humanitarian crises" he had seen.

The UN chief, who held talks with Palestinian and Israeli leadership Monday and Tuesday, told reporters he was "deeply moved to be in Gaza today, unfortunately to witness one of the most dramatic humanitarian crises that I’ve seen in many years working as a humanitarian in the United Nations.”

He said it was “important to open the closures,” imposed on the enclave, referring to the Israeli blockade that is upheld by Egypt on the Palestinian territory's southern border.

Guterres also announced the emergency release of $4 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund for UN operations in Gaza.

During the press conference, held at a school in Beit Lahiya run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Guterres reiterated his support for the two-state solution in which a Palestinian state, including Gaza, would live "in peace and security together" with Israel.

His dream, Guterres said, was that he "would be to be able to come back to Gaza one day and to see Gaza as part of a Palestinian state in peace, with prosperity and welfare for the people of this wonderful place."

He called upon rival Palestinian factions to unite, saying that the ongoing political conflict between the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas, the de facto ruling party in Gaza, was destroying the Palestinian people’s cause.

"Yesterday, I was in Ramallah. Today, I am in Gaza. They are both parts of the same Palestine. So, I appeal for the unity, in line with the principles of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The division only undermines the cause of the Palestinian people," he said.

The PA has recently imposed a number of polices in Gaza seeking to pressure Hamas to give up control of the enclave, including halting medical referrals so patients can receive treatment abroad while simultaneously cutting funding to the local medical sector, cutting salaries to its Gaza-based employees, discontinuing payments to former prisoners of Israel, and dramatically reducing funding for Israeli fuel.

Prior to the press conference, families of Palestinian prisoners staged a protest near Israel’s Erez border crossing with Gaza on Wednesday against Guterres’ entry into the territory.

Families held signs demanding their relatives be released, and called for prisoners to have “the basic requirements of a decent human life” devoid of the ongoing “humiliation” they face in Israeli prison. The denounced in particular conditions sick Palestinians face in Israeli custody.

Guterres met with a number of relatives of Palestinian prisoners on Tuesday in the occupied West Bank.

The Hamas movement welcomed the secretary-general’s visit. Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement Wednesday that the visit was an important acknowledgment of the diplomatic and international importance of the Gaza Strip and of the dangerous humanitarian conditions Gazans have been subjected to for a decade under siege.

Barhoum said that Hamas was hopeful that Guterres would meet with the families of Palestinian prisoners, Palestinians who need to leave the blockaded territory for medical treatment but cannot secure permission, the victims of home demolitions, and others who have suffered at the hands of Israeli aggression in Gaza.

According to Israeli news site Haaretz, Guterres is not scheduled to meet with any Hamas leaders, but after being briefed by UN leadership on the situation in Gaza, he will meet with “Palestinian notables and Gaza clan leaders.”

The Hamas spokesperson also called on Guterres to undertake every effort to lift the Israeli siege on the two million residents of the “biggest prison in the world,” he said, referring to the Gaza Strip.

Barhoum also said that Hamas demanded that the UN put pressure on Israel to end all violations against Muslim and Christian holy sites in the occupied territory and against the Palestinian people and prisoners.

After meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in Ramallah on Tuesday, Guterres affirmed that the UN remained “very concerned with the humanitarian situation in Gaza. We are totally committed to support UNRWA’a activity as well as the activities of reconstruction that are taking place in Gaza.”

“We will do also everything possible to support the effort that President Abbas is making in order to create conditions for a unified leadership both in West Bank and Gaza, with the dialogue for peace behind it,” he said.

The United Nations Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities (OCHA) announced Thursday that $2.5 million of the UN’s Humanitarian Fund was being donated to the besieged Gaza Strip in order to meet urgent needs in the territory.

In 2012, the UN warned that Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020 if current trends were not altered. However, a new report released last month by the UN said that “life for the average Palestinian in Gaza is getting more and more wretched,” and that for the majority of Gaza's residents, the territory may already be unlivable.
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