19 February 2009 – The Gaza visits of three United States legislators were a sign of change that could improve the situation on the ground in the war-torn territory, the chief of the United Nations agency responsible for the welfare of Palestinian refugees said today.
“We think it makes a very important signal from the American Government that they are ready to come in, and able to come in and have a look around themselves,” Karen AbuZayd, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) told UN Radio after she met with John Kerry, the Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Two US Congressmen, Brian Baird and Keith Ellison, also visited the Gaza Strip today, with all three touring areas heavily damaged by the three-week Israeli offensive against the militant organization Hamas, which ended last month.
They also visited UNRWA’s headquarters and received a briefing on the Agency’s work, the humanitarian situation in the Strip, and the difficulties caused by the lack of full access through the crossings into Israel and Egypt.
The representatives were struck by the destruction, expressing outrage, but they were also impressed by the efforts Gazans were making to rebuild, as well as by the work of UN agencies, Ms. AbuZayd said.
“They did leave a message that there are changes in Washington, and they hope that there will be changes here on the ground to follow,” she commented, adding that the representatives seemed surprised at some of the goods that were not being allowed into Gaza.
Before the visits of the legislators, she and a colleague were able to elicit promises that the entry of school supplies, particularly paper, would be eased, she noted.
UNRWA, which tends to the needs of 900,000 Palestinian refugees in the Strip, has already unveiled a $345 million “Quick Recovery Plan” for Gaza, which has so far received nearly $145 million in confirmed pledges.
Discussion of major reconstruction projects awaits the outcome of the donor conference planned for 2 March in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Ms. AbuZayd said.
Meanwhile, the office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory reported today that the Nahal Oz fuel pipelines and the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza are open today.
In addition, the Erez crossing is open for international staff, but the Karni and Sufa crossings remain closed, as does the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt