UN accuses Israel of punishing aid workers

Diplomatic Editor,Anne Penketh
Monday 01 December 2008 17:54 GMT

The UN official responsible for the welfare of 4.6 million Palestinian refugees has accused Israel of extending its punishment of the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip to include international humanitarian staff.

Karen AbuZayd, who is based in Gaza City, said that Israeli authorities have within the past month stopped UN staff based in Gaza from using the diplomatic pouch. They gave no reason for the move, which is a clear breach of international law.

“We can’t send the mail out or get any mail in. I don’t think they could give a reason because there is no way they could justify it,” said Mrs AbuZayd, an American who is commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency. UNRWA is the main provider of basic services – such as education and health – to registered Palestine refugees, including 1.1 million in Gaza.

Two weeks ago the Israelis issued for the first time a written list of goods that cannot be sent into Gaza for UN humanitarian needs, she said. The list, which has baffled UN officials, includes spices, kitchenware, glassware, yarn and paper.

“They are punishing the international community that’s inside,” said Mrs AbuZayd. “For our own office, we are having trouble in keeping it going, because we’re not allowed to bring in spare parts,” she added. UN cars are lying idle for lack of tyres and oil, office photocopiers cannot be mended and computers are not allowed into Gaza. “And we’re supposed to have privileges and immunities,” she added.

As the restrictions have been extended, the international press has been barred from entering Gaza for the past month, and is challenging the Israeli decision in the Supreme Court.

The UNRWA chief officer is to meet the new Israeli co-ordinator, General Amos Gilad, next week to discuss the latest developments. It will be their first meeting since his appointment in September. Until now, the United Nations has privately protested against the decisions but Mrs AbuZayd’s decision to speak out publicly about the crisis is a sign of the level of frustration within the UN.

The Israeli blockade has caused an ever-worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza since it was imposed after the election of Hamas in January 2006. But Israel has refused to ease the measures on the ground that Palestinian militants have continued to fire rockets on Israel from the territory.

The spokesman for London’s Israeli embassy, Lior Ben-Dor, today said that the restrictions were due to safety concerns. “We can’t operate the checkpoints because we are not willing to risk the lives of Israelis,” he said.best wishes,

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