x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

UAE ambassador joins criticism of Israeli blockade

The Government has added its voice to international criticism of Israel for blockading the Gaza Strip.

NEW YORK // The Government has added its voice to international criticism of Israel for blockading the Gaza Strip and preventing the delivery of urgently needed aid supplies. Speaking at UN headquarters, the UAE Ambassador, Ahmed al Jarman, warned diplomats that a lack of food, fuel and medicine was pushing the strip's population towards a humanitarian crisis. The Emirati envoy's warnings came during a General Assembly debate on Tuesday after key international figures raised similar fears about Gaza's beleaguered 1.5 million people.

"The Palestinian people still struggle under the yolk of Israeli aggression and occupation and are experiencing a worsening humanitarian catastrophe, as a result of being deprived of the simplest human rights and fundamental freedoms," Mr Jarman said. "The Israelis are laying siege to the Gaza Strip, impeding the delivery of fuel supplies, food and other forms of humanitarian assistance. This presages the occurrence of a widespread humanitarian disaster."

The ambassador's comments follow those of the UN humanitarian chief, John Holmes, who urged Israel to halt the "unacceptable" closure of border crossings with Gaza and subsequent "hardship and suffering of the civilian population". Israel closed Gaza after Palestinian militants responded with daily rocket salvos to an Israeli army incursion on Nov 4 into the Hamas-run territory, where a five-month-old, Egyptian-brokered ceasefire had largely been holding.

In addition to running out of food for 750,000 Palestinians, about half of Gaza's population, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) threatened to suspend cash assistance to 98,000 poor Gazans because of a shortage of currency in the territory. The UN political chief Lynn Pascoe warned that Israeli restrictions had left Gaza's power plant closed for more than a dozen days, while fuel shortages had seen 30 of 71 bakeries close down.

Import restrictions, compounded by internal disputes, had left 95 essential drugs and 174 medical supplies out of stock, Mr Pascoe added during the Security Council's monthly Middle East briefing on Tuesday. The Office of the UN Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) reported that at least 17 lorries loaded with powdered milk, rice and other goods were permitted to cross from Israel into Gaza on Monday.

A further 440,000 litres of industrial gas were pumped through to Gaza's power plant, which is expected to reduce the number of power cuts endured by inhabitants. But UNRWA says it needs substantially more access to Gaza for the agency to continue providing sufficient quantities of food, medicine and other urgently needed supplies. Speaking in advance of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, observed annually on Nov 29, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon demanded Israel permit greater humanitarian access.

"I call for immediate measures to ease the near-blanket closure of Gaza, which leads to worrying deprivations of basic supplies and human dignity," Mr Ban said. "I call on Israel to allow sufficient and predictable supplies to reach the population, to ensure access for humanitarian workers." Israel says it blockades Gaza for security reasons and closed cargo crossings on Tuesday after Palestinian militants fired rockets across the border, evidence that the ceasefire may be close to breaking down.

Speaking in Washington, the Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said: "There are security situations in which certain restrictions are set for a short period and it doesn't mean the Israeli government is trying to hide something in the Gaza Strip." jreinl@thenational.ae