7 November 2007 – The restrictions imposed on the Gaza Strip are serving to boost the extremist elements of the Palestinian community in the crowded territory, the head of the United Nations agency tasked with helping Palestinian refugees said today.
Karen Koning AbuZayd, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York that Gaza’s population of about 1.4 million is facing critical humanitarian shortages. She said that since May, when economic restrictions were introduced and many border crossings closed, the number of trucks bringing goods into Gaza has dropped from 253 to 74 each day. The availability of medicines has been particularly hard hit. The latest information obtained by UNRWA indicates that Gaza has zero stocks of 91 key drugs, while health-care clinics have told the agency that their stocks of paediatric antibiotics have also been depleted. Ms. AbuZayd said a senior UNRWA official met this morning with officials from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to discuss what can be done to alleviate the humanitarian situation. “We are losing the fight to those who are on the extreme ends of the groups in Gaza, and they are the ones who are benefiting by this isolation and this continual squeeze on Gaza and its economy and the people of Gaza,” she said. Ms. AbuZayd, who is in New York to address the General Assembly on the work of UNRWA, said the agency incurred a deficit of more than $90 million this year and is forecasting a deficit of $112 million next year. While UNRWA’s major donors continue to pay for the basic social services, such as health care and education, that the agency provides, she said programmes to improve the infrastructure of the Palestinian refugee camps, especially the housing, remained underfunded. UNRWA helps an estimated 4.5 million beneficiaries across Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It has 113 international staff and over 28,000 local staff to carry out its work. The agency has asked the Assembly’s Fifth Committee, which handles budgetary and administrative matters, to approve a plan to add 10 new posts in the coming biennium.