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Source: Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
25 October 2007

Highlights of press conference by Under-Secretary-General John Holmes on humanitarian situation in Occupied Palestinian Territory

John Holmes, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed journalists this afternoon in Geneva on the humanitarian situation in Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).

Squeeze Tightening on the Occupied Palestinian Territory

Mr. Holmes said that he had called this briefing to underline the great concern of OCHA and all the international humanitarian agencies over the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The situation had been continuing for some months now in which normal economic activity in Gaza strip had been restricted, however, it was worsening apace.

"The squeeze was tightening all the time", Mr. Holmes said. Whereas over the summer when the UN had been managing to get through over 3,000 truckloads of humanitarian aid in July, through a number of crossing points, that volume had been steadily falling, and had only been 1,508 in September. Last week, 663 truckloads had gone through, as compared with the 793 just the previous week.

The main crossing point for goods, Karni, had been closed since June, with only one conveyor belt available twice a week, and of the smaller ones that were still open – those at Sufa and Karem Shalom – it was believed the Sufa crossing point would be closed by the end of the month. For people, the main crossing point, Rafah, had been closed since June, and the available crossing points were clearly insufficient.

In the field of employment, much of industry in the OPT was closing down for lack of outlets. Some 70,000 workers had been laid off from industrial and social service sectors. The same was true for the agricultural sector. As for health care, in July, 40 patients a day had been allowed to cross into Israel, which had fallen to under 5 a day in September. "Denial of freedom of movement for medical reasons would appear to be a breach of international humanitarian law", Mr. Holmes noted.

Israeli Threats of Electricity Cuts to Gaza

As everyone was aware, Israel had declared the Gaza Strip as a hostile territory a few weeks ago, and had threatened to cut electricity and fuel supplies if the launching of rocket attacks from Gaza continued. Of course, the UN condemned those attacks. However, "it did not appear an appropriate response to those rocket attacks to punish the population of Gaza", Mr. Holmes stressed.

Upcoming Peace Talks in the United States

"It was hard to reconcile the continuing deterioration on the ground with expected progress in the Annapolis talks that were due to take place in a couple of weeks", Mr. Holmes commented. He appealed to Israel to relax the restrictions on humanitarian aid and to lift the economic blockade on Gaza as the best method to promote peace there.

A Serious Humanitarian Crisis

Asked how long the people in the OPT could survive in the current situation, Mr. Holmes would not give a number of days. What was clear was that the situation that was being created meant that increasingly the population was dependent on aid to survive. "That is not a good situation for their livelihoods, their dignity and the possibility of their participating in any kind of peace process", he observed. People were not dying of hunger yet, "but in terms of a serious humanitarian crisis, yes, they were there already" Mr. Holmes said.

Situation in Darfur/Attacks on Humanitarian Workers and Peacekeepers

Responding to a journalist's question on the impact of the recent increased attacks on humanitarian workers and peacekeepers in Darfur, Mr. Holmes said the humanitarian effort there was large and it was continuing. "But these security problems and the lack of access that these security problems are causing, is beginning to have an impact", he added. Malnutrition rates in the camps, which had been well under control last year, were now increasing. "For that reason it was imperative that the larger more robust AU-UN force was deployed soon, so that it could make a difference on the ground", Mr. Holmes concluded.

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