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Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
31 December 2008



Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A briefing on Gaza was held today with John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and by video-link from Gaza, Karen AbuZayd, Commissioner-General of UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).


    • Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is holding daily intensive meetings with UN officials, who are on the ground in the region. He is also continuing to work the phones. His calls over the last 24 hours include those with Israeli Foreign Minister Livni and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He also held a teleconference with the principals of the Middle East Quartet..
    • The Secretary-General will be on full alert over the coming days as he continues to do what he can to work towards a ceasefire.
    • The UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Maxwell Gaylard, today said that, without the violence in Gaza stopping, it is extremely difficult to get food to the people who need it. In addition, the United Nations cannot assess where the most urgent needs are, and it is too dangerous for civilians to leave their homes to seek urgent medical treatment, buy supplies and help people in distress.
    • In reference to the Karni crossing between Israel and Gaza, Gaylard said, “We desperately need Karni to open, today, to get wheat grain in.” In that context, he noted that the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has no wheat grain for the 750,000 people who need it; its wheat grain warehouses are empty.
    • Gaylard added that fuel is needed so that Gaza’s power plant can resume its normal functions. He noted that Gaza’s hospitals are facing their largest number ever of trauma caseloads under some of the most adverse conditions imaginable. “They must have reliable power,” he stressed.
    • Gaylard noted that the United Nations is in hourly contact with the Israeli authorities and that both parties are offering each other cooperation. But while the Israelis have been responsive to specific requests, for which he expressed appreciation, the gravity of the current situation demands more, he emphasized. “Today, we need that cooperation translated into real results on the ground,” he said.
    • The Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report that all crossings from Israel into Gaza were closed today with the exception of Kerem Shalom, which was operating at partial capacity.
    • A total of 84 truckloads, including 34 for humanitarian aid agencies, were allowed entry. Included were 16 trucks of flour and high-energy biscuits for the World Food Programme (WFP) and 17 trucks of rice, medical supplies, sugar and candles for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
    • But the Karni conveyor belt remained closed, as did the Nahal Oz fuel pipelines. The Erez crossing also remained closed for all Palestinians, including medical cases. The Rafah crossing, between Gaza and Egypt, was open today for the import of humanitarian supplies and medical evacuations only.
      For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) will attempt to make a bread distribution tomorrow in Beit Hanoun.
    • The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has launched an appeal for $34 million as the needs of the population of Gaza continue to mount in the face of the ongoing military operation. This appeal is in addition to UNRWA’s $275 million 2009 Emergency Appeal issued earlier this month for the occupied Palestinian territory.
    • Speaking from the Agency’s Headquarters in Gaza, UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd said, “In my eight years in UNRWA, the urgency of an appeal for the people here has never been so acute. I am appalled and saddened when I see the suffering around me. This appeal covers life-saving humanitarian requirements for a four-month period. I call on the international community to respond with the promptness and generosity demanded by the desperate situation in Gaza today”.
    • The flash appeal will enable UNRWA to provide essential health supplies, food, cash assistance, materials for housing repair and fuel. These were already in short supply owing to the months of closure of Gaza’s borders and are now critically scarce. Also, at a time when winter has set in, this appeal will also allow UNRWA to respond to the growing shelter needs of an increasing number of Palestinian civilians displaced by damage to or destruction of their homes. 
    • Air strikes have inflicted considerable damage to already fragile public infrastructure and erased Gaza’s public service capacity, thus making UNRWA’s humanitarian interventions more crucial then ever, the Agency adds.
    • "Tomorrow, we will resume our food distributions which were suspended on 18 December”, said AbuZayd. “People are without the most basic food commodities and have suffered enough.  If we are to meet the needs of our beneficiaries, who comprise about two thirds of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents, the crossings must be open on a permanent basis, including the Karni Crossing which is the only access point through which we can bring in wheat in adequate quantities to meet the requirements of people here.”
    • Meanwhile, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said the situation in Gaza is unbearable for the civilian population and especially for children. Coomaraswamy reiterated her call to the Palestinian groups to take all necessary measures to prevent the involvement of children in political violence. She also announced her intention to visit the region to follow up on previous commitments in this regard.

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