JERUSALEM // A UN report has concluded nearly half of the Gaza Strip's labour force lacked work last year.
Released on the fifth anniversary of Israel's blockade on the territory, the report by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) noted Gaza's unemployment was 45.2 per cent in the second half of last year.
This was a slight decrease from the same period in 2009 and up from about 30 per cent when Israel began tightening its restrictions in 2006.
Since Israel began clamping down further on goods and travel in Gaza after the capture of the Israeli solider Gilad Shalit by militants in 2006, wages have fallen by more than a third, the UNRWA report said.
The numbers also seem to belie the notion of economic improvement since Israel slightly eased restrictions after its military killed nine activists on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza last year.
Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the UNRWA, said in a statement posted on the agency's website on Monday: "It is hard to understand the logic of a man-made policy which deliberately impoverishes so many and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution."
Mr Gunness said refugees, who made up two thirds of Gaza's population of 1.5 million, were the most affected by the situation and called the trend "disturbing".
"The number of people coming to us, the abject poor living on just over $1 a day, has tripled to 300,000 since the blockade was imposed, and with many reconstruction projects still awaiting approval the future looks bleak," he said.
While the private sector experienced significant job losses in the second half of last year, a decline of about 8 per cent from the first part of last year, the report also said that the public sector, run by Hamas, had fared comparatively well.
Since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, the Islamist group had been able to increase employment in its bureaucracy by a fifth, UNRWA said. From the second half of 2009 to the same period last year, public sector employment grew from 85,090 to 90,465.
After the takeover, Israel limited more imports and increased restrictions on movement outside the territory.
It also gradually limited fisherman to just three nautical miles off the Gaza coast.
Israel said the restrictions, including some on building materials, were necessary to prevent Hamas from using imported goods to make weapons.
"If the aim of the blockade policy was to weaken the Hamas administration, the public employment numbers suggest this has failed," Mr Gunness said.
He added that policy had "certainly been highly successful in punishing some of the poorest of the poor in the Middle East region".
The US and EU list Hamas as a terrorist group.