END THE SIEGE OF GAZA! –situation ‘worsening’ warns UNWRA

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The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) has called for ending the Israeli siege on Gaza Strip to end the suffering of its inhabitants, warning that the situation in the coastal enclave was worsening.

Christopher Gunness, spokesperson for UNRWA, told a press conference at UNRWA headquarters in Gaza on Wednesday that the unemployment rate in the Strip reached 44.5 per cent by the end of 2010 and increased by 0.5 per cent with the start of 2011.

He called for immediate end to the blockade or else the crisis would worsen, adding that Gaza is testing the world’s success or failure in helping the people there.

Reports about a new war on Gaza would only cause conditions to deteriorate there further especially when the last war inflicted colossal damage that Gaza was still suffering from until the present moment, Gunness underlined.

Gunness warned that the increasing unemployment was a sign of a hugely fragile Gaza economy, which he described as on the ‘brink of collapse.’

Israel’s continued siege on the coastal enclave, Gunness warned, would push the economy over the edge.

Since Israel announced its ‘ease’ on restrictions, during the second quarter of 2010, unemployment in Gaza rose from 44.3 percent to 45.4 percent, UN numbers showed.

Such high unemployment, the official said, meant ‘people have less money in their pockets and more despair,’ adding a caution, that despair in Gaza would give no boost to a peace process when it got back on track.

For those employed the outlook was no less grim, Gunness said, with salaries dropping by 9.5 per cent from mid 2009 to mid 2010.

‘We will be facing a real problem,’ he said.

UNRWA, the UN organisation charged with taking care of the Palestinian refugees in the Near East, has repeatedly warned of the dangerous humanitarian situation in Gaza.

With a population of over 70 per cent refugees, the agency is often the only means of support for people in the besieged coastal enclave.

Officials from the organization have criticised the blockade of Gaza, and called on Israel to allow manufacturing and reconstruction materials into the area.

In June, Israeli officials vowed to loosen the blockade, and began increasing the type and amount of goods for import.

The changes stopped there, however, with UN offices complaining of wheat, animal food and construction material shortages, which have halted the operation of farms, bakeries and reconstruction projects.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian ministry of health warned that the crisis of medicines in the besieged Gaza Strip was aggravated after Israel bombed a medical aid warehouse at an early hour Wednesday morning.

Minister of health Basem Naim said in a news conference inside the bombed depot that Gaza already suffers from acute shortage of medical supplies and the bombing worsened the problem and noticeably affected the work of hospitals.

Naim told journalists that this store is well known by international organizations, especially, the world health organization, the Red Cross, the network of NGOs.

He appealed to international health and human rights organisations to urgently intervene to provide Gaza with its needs of medicines and medical supplies.

Despite their hardships, several hundred students rallied in central Gaza on Wednesday in a show of solidarity with the ongoing anti-government protests in Egypt, onlookers said.

‘Gaza salutes the Egyptians’ they shouted, denouncing embattled President Hosni Mubarak as ‘an American collaborator.’

Waving Egyptian and Palestinian flags, they also shouted angry slogans against Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman and Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq.

Earlier on Wednesday, Egyptian immigration officials said they had been ordered to bar Palestinians from entering the country.

An official at the Palestinian embassy in Cairo confirmed the ban but said he had been told it was a ‘temporary measure.’

Shortly after the Egyptian upsrising erupted on January 25th, the Egypt-Gaza border was closed, leaving several hundred Palestinians stranded on the Egyptian side, most of them who had made the trip for medical reasons, Palestinian officials said.

The increased number and variety of foods on Gaza market shelves, officials say, makes little difference to families who cannot afford to buy them.

Meanwhile, Hamas says legal action against former Egyptian Minister of Interior Habib Al-Adili linking him to the Alexandria church bombing exposes the baselessness of the minister’s accusations against Palestinians.

The movement said in a statement that accusations that Palestinians targeted the Saints Church on New Year’s Day was to incite the world against Palestinians, distort the resistance, and justify the blockade of Gaza.

Parliament deputy Ahmed Bahar said the resistance would never consider participating in such a crime.

He said the Ministry of Interior, headed by Adili, is suspected of atrocities against Muslim and Christian Egyptians.

‘The policy of media disinformation and incitement against the Palestinians are not limited to the former minister, but rather is the practice of many state organisations in Egypt,’ the statement said.

Hamas said attorney general Abdulmajeed Mahmoud ordered the state prosecutor’s office to interrogate former interior minister Habib Al-Adli for his role in the January bombing of a church in Alexandria.

Hamas said attorney Mamdouh Ramzi filed a claim with the attorney general accusing Adli of masterminding a church attack that killed 23 people and injured 97 others.

In a separate development Hamas has said that the Palestinian Authority’s call to elections is illegal, and made in contravention of Elections Law (9) 2005 because the call came from an illegitimate government.

Hamas’ Ministry of Justice said in a statement on Thursday that Palestinians must refuse the call and stand in the face of an illegitimate Ramallah government, urging people to call for a boycott of the vote.

Without proposing an alternative, the statement called on international rights organisations to interfere and prevent the elections from being held.

The statement accused Prime Minister Fayyad’s government of seizing the issue of elections and using it to intensify division.

Any municipal councils derived from the new elections, the statement said, would be illegitimate.

Palestinian factions in Gaza hasd said on Tuesday that no Palestinian faction is entitled to unilateral decisions to hold national elections to serve special interests.

Islamic Jihad it was committed in principle to elections but it rejects Fatah’s control of the decision because it is a national issue and should be made through national consensus.

No faction should control this decision to serve special interests, the movement said in a statement.

Ramallah has announced elections plans in the past but reneged after it claimed conditions were not suitable.

Hamas has announced that there will be no elections in Gaza without an end to Palestinian division.

l The Israeli occupation authority (IOA) has arrested 12,000 Palestinian females since its occupation of the remaining Palestinian lands in 1967, Abdul Nasser Farwana, a researcher in prisoners affairs, said.

He added in a statement that Israel is currently holding 35 Palestinian women in Hasharon and Damon prisons while the only detainee from Gaza, Wafa’a Al-Biss, is held in solitary confinement in Ramle jail.

He said that the Israeli occupation forces rounded up about 850 Palestinian females in the period since the Aqsa intifada in 2000 until the current year of 2011.

Farwana noted that the IOA does not differentiate in its treatment of prisoners whether on the basis of sex, age, social or political status, or even health and humanitarian conditions and exercise all forms of psychological and physical torture on all prisoners.

Female prisoners are subjected to the same treatment of male prisoners including torture, isolation, humiliation, physical assault, and sometimes molestation, the researcher underlined.