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Source: Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
31 October 2013

The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate in the Gaza Strip. On 13 October, one week after the reported discovery of a tunnel leading from the southern Gaza Strip into Israel, the Israeli authorities halted the transfer of construction materials into Gaza, including those slated for international organizations. As a result, UNRWA, the largest UN agency in the Gaza Strip, has been forced to suspend 19 out of 20 ongoing projects, intended to address housing, education, water and sanitation needs. The recent Israeli decision exacerbated the shortages triggered by the sharp reduction in the smuggling of building materials through the illegal tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border. In addition to delaying response to address urgent needs, the developments led to the temporary layoff of tens of thousands of workers, compounding pre-existing pressures on livelihoods.

This is the second of four releases agreed upon between the in the context of the current negotiations. As such, this is an encouraging development. However, the following day the Israeli authorities published tenders for the construction of 2,258 new housing units in settlements across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and announced the promotion of plans for nearly 2,500 additional units. Continued settlement construction, expansion and encroachment on Palestinian land and water resources is an integral part of the ongoing fragmentation of the West Bank, and has resulted in the shrinking of space available for Palestinians to develop adequate housing, basic infrastructure and services and to sustain their livelihoods. Settlements are illegal under international law and constitute a key driver of humanitarian vulnerability.

In addition to the above announcements, this month Israeli settlers began developing a plot of land south of Bethlehem city to establish an agricultural farm, negatively impacting the agricultural livelihoods of Palestinian farmers. Although the planning process has not yet formally started, in the past the area surrounding this parcel was declared "state land" and allocated for the establishment of a large urban settlement (Giv'at Eitam). This takes place in the context of the longstanding fragmentation of the Bethlehem governorate due to the expansion of Israeli settlements, the construction of the Barrier, and the designation of large tracts of land as closed military areas and nature reserves; at present, only 13 percent of the governorate's area, much of it fragmented is available for Palestinian use.

Although settlement activities impact the entire Palestinian population in the West Bank, those residing in Area C, where the majority of settlements are located, are particularly affected. In order to better understand Area C residents' unique vulnerability, OCHA and humanitarian partners have carried out the 2013 Vulnerability Profile Project (VPP), which entered this month into its data analysis phase. The VPP is a comprehensive survey of the nearly 550 communities that have any part of their built up area in Area C, designed to identify vulnerabilities, flag areas for in-depth assessments, and inform humanitarian interventions and advocacy. The preliminary findings are expected to be released during December 2013.

Settlements, and the security measures implemented to protect them, have also been a constant trigger of tensions and clashes between the Palestinian population and Israeli forces. While the number of casualties during October decreased, in the first ten months of 2013 as a whole, nearly 3,500 Palestinians were injured by Israeli forces in the West Bank — more than in any other entire year since 2005, when OCHA began collecting data on conflict-related casualties. About 41 percent of these injuries were caused by tear gas inhalation requiring medical treatment, and 38 percent by rubber-coated metal bullets.

Current negotiations offer an extraordinary window of opportunity to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the related longstanding occupation. Ensuring that the basic needs of the most vulnerable are properly met, particularly in Area C and in the Gaza Strip, is not only a legal obligation but also a contribution to the creation of an environment conducive to negotiations.

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