UN criticises deteriorating conditions in Gaza Strip


THE UNITED Nations has marked the fifth anniversary of Israel’s siege and blockade of Gaza by reporting that conditions there have dramatically deteriorated over this period.

During the second half of 2010, unemployment rose to 45.2 per cent, making the level in Gaza among the highest in the world. Real wages fell by more than a third.

UN Relief and Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said refugees from areas that were seized by Israel in 1948, “who make up two-thirds of Gaza’s 1.5 million population, were the worst hit”.

Since the blockade was imposed, the number of people living on less than $1 a day has tripled to nearly 300,000.

“It is hard to understand the logic of a man-made policy which deliberately impoverishes so many and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution,” Mr Gunness said.

The private sector cut nearly 8,000 jobs during the second half of 2010 while the public sector – run by the de facto Hamas government – grew by 3 per cent and by 20 per cent over the five-year period.

“If the aim of the blockade policy was to weaken the Hamas administration, the public employment numbers suggest this has failed,” Mr Gunness added.

Israel deepened its siege and blockade after Palestinian fighters captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid on June 14th, 2006.

In October 2006, Israel reduced the limit for Palestinian fishermen from 20 nautical miles from the coast to six, and following its 2008-09 war on Gaza, to three nautical miles, depriving Gazans of jobs and an important source of nourishment. Exports were banned and imports restricted to a list of basic food items and medicines drawn up by Israel.

After Israeli commandos raided blockade-busting ships carrying foreign activists and supplies last summer, Israel was compelled by international pressure to allow in some commercial goods.

However, the construction sector has been paralysed by an Israeli ban on the import of building materials and manufacturing suffers from an embargo on raw materials and industrial goods.

Gaza has been permitted to export only occasional consignments of carnations and strawberries, once major money-earners for the strip’s farmers.

Israel has closed two of the three goods crossings into Gaza and moved the pipeline carrying fuel to the sole remaining transit area at Karem Shalom/Karm Abu Salem, located at the south-eastern corner of the strip where the Israeli and Egyptian borders meet.

This crossing, Gaza’s sole lifeline, has been expanded to accommodate a larger volume of goods but it does not provide all of Gaza’s needs.

The remainder are met by smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.

Israel’s Erez passenger terminal in the north has been closed to all but a few ailing Palestinians seeking medical treatment in Israel while Egypt is permitting only 450 people a day to leave Gaza at the Rafah passenger crossing in the south.

An earlier UN Relief and Works Agency report revealed that rapid growth in the West Bank had not kept up with population expansion.

Unemployment rose from 21.7 per cent during the first half of 2010 to 25 per cent in the second half.