28 May 2009 – The ongoing Israeli blockade is hampering efforts by the United Nations and its partners to help Gaza recover after the recent conflict, the top United Nations humanitarian official in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) said today.
Maxwell Gaylard told a news conference in New York that the UN and its implementing partners are ready to proceed with reconstruction and other efforts, “as soon as restrictions are lifted on the passage of the appropriate materials into Gaza.”
He said the fighting in December and January had destroyed some 4,000 homes and damaged another 40,000. Although donor countries have pledged billions of dollars for Gaza’s reconstruction, it cannot begin because of the blockade.
The Israelis allow the importation of “a limited list of food items and some medical supplies,” he noted, but added, “No cement is allowed in yet, no steel rods, no building material, nothing that you really need to build a house.”
“Fundamentally, the blockade of Gaza continues,” stated Mr. Gaylard, who is also Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.
The UN and its partners had some $100 million in previously approved and funded projects ready to begin in a matter of days, but, “we wait for the blockade to be lifted.”
A new report released yesterday by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated that Israeli obstacles continue to constrain the freedom of movement for Palestinians living in the West Bank.
Mr. Gaylard said that there are some 630 restrictions impeding movement in the West Bank, including ditches, barrier gates and cement blocks – up from some 500 counted a year and a half ago.
“The simple question of movement is difficult, a challenge” in the West Bank for the UN and for the Palestinians
“There will be no significant economic development in the West Bank until movement and access is eased,” he added.
Asked by reporters about what the UN had done to urge the Israelis to lift the blockade, he said, “The UN position from the Secretary-General down has always been very clear and it is still very clear: the blockade has to be lifted. The imposition of it, and we’ve said this along time ago, is a collective punishment of one and a half million people.”
On whether or not he saw any movement on the part of the Israelis, he said, “nothing concrete.”