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Source: European Union (EU)
26 November 2009

UN chief wants to see greater international influence in Gaza

"The situation in the Palestinian territories is quite tough. Because all border crossings are strictly closed, we cannot get any building materials in and so we have no possibility to try and rebuild”, says Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner-General at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN’s relief organisation for Palestinian refugees, which is celebrating its sixtieth anniversary this year. When she visited Stockholm on Thursday and met Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation Gunilla Carlsson, she painted a gloomy picture of the situation in Gaza and the West Bank.

Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) visited Stockholm on Thursday.

On 17 November, the European Union expressed its concern that the situation in the area has not improved and that the closure policy has both devastated the private sector economy and caused further damage to the environment. It is a view that Karen AbuZayd shares.

"Only staple foods and medicines are allowed into Gaza. This is not a good situation at all. People cannot get out, goods cannot move freely. People are really stuck”, said Ms AbuZayd.

"The European Union, a balanced partner"

In its statement, the EU also criticised the Palestinian side and demanded a complete stop to all violence, including a sustained halt of rocket attacks at Israel and an effective mechanism to prevent arms and ammunition smuggling into the Gaza Strip.

”We count on the European Union as a balanced partner that can talk with both Israelis and Palestinians”, said Ms AbuZayd.

The European Union has expressed its concern over the situation in Gaza a number of times during the autumn. In statements in the UN Human Rights Council on 29 September and in the Security Council on 14 October, the EU called on the Palestinian authorities and the State of Israel to enter into serious peace negotiations as soon as possible. The EU also reiterated the need for a political solution with a Palestinian state existing side by side in peace and security with the State of Israel.

Greater international influence needed

Ms AbuZayd, who during her visit also met a number of non-governmental organisations working in the region, hopes for more action in the region from the rest of the world in general.

“We want political actors to exercise greater influence, so that we can perhaps see what this can do to move the situation forward, so that border crossings can be kept open to a greater extent and more goods can be allowed into Gaza, so as not to punish the 1.5 million strong civilian population any longer”, said Ms AbuZayd. “And to help open things up in the West Bank as well, where the economy is only partially sustainable as it is developing at the moment.”

She does not dare to be optimistic about the situation in the Palestinian territories, even if she notes that a lot of work is going on.

“There is quite a lot happening. There are ongoing negotiations on reconciliation between the West Bank and Gaza, between the Palestinian organisations Fatah and Hamas and negotiations on the release of prisoners. And a number of different peace negotiations are underway in the region as well. It is not a passive period with nothing happening”, says Ms AbuZayd.

“Perhaps there is some hope, and all I can hope for is that some of the activity that is going on comes to fruition and brings a change for the Palestinian people.”

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