GAZA HOLOCAUST AND GENOCIDE 27.12.2008-18.01.2009

Monday, 19 January 2009

Gaza crossings must be reopened


Gaza crossings must be reopened | AUDIO


PRES: The two parallel ceasefires in Gaza, by Israel and Hamas, seem to be holding according to Christopher Gunness, the spokesman of the UN humanitarian agency in Gaza, UNRWA. He says there is evidence of an Israeli Defense Forces withdrawal and the Hamas rockets have stopped. But for the agency to be able to resume its full-scale operations of feeding 750,000 people and providing health care to a million people, Mr. Gunness told UN Radio's Patrick Maigua, that the crossings into Gaza must be reopened, as demanded by the UN Secretary-General.

Gunness: Before June 2007 there were on average about 475 trucks a day. That's in total for the international community. Now there is around 100 a day or so. I think it's clear that we have to get the crossings properly opened so that we can get fuel, we can get food supplies in industrial quantities to get somewhere with the huge task ahead of us.

MAIGUA: Have all the crossings been opened?

GUNNESS: No, and we are being forced to use mainly the Kerem Shalom crossing point which is, as far as we are concerned, is a hopeless bottleneck. It's the industrial scrub land area where we have to take pellets of goods and dump these pellets in open ground, flood them in on the Israeli side in the morning and then take over form the Palestinian side in the afternoon and the trucks come in and pick them up. That is wholly unsatisfactory. What we want is the Karni trans-shipment point for industrial quantities of, for example, wheat grain to go in and we need the Nahal Oz trans-shipment point for industrial quantities of fuel to go in. Only if that can happen can we really get our operation up to the scale we need it to be at.

MAIGUA: Now, how are Palestinians rebuilding their lives?

GUNNESS: They have been subjected to three weeks of aerial bombardment. There have been rockets. There has been a ground offensive and they are traumatized, they are terrorized. And until now they have been trapped because they have nowhere to flee. UN schools, UN reception centres were coming under direct attacks from the Israeli army. There was nowhere safe in Gaza. At least we hope now the ceasefire coming into effect that there is somewhere safe for them to go. But, imagine in our school, in Beit Lahiya just a few days ago there was a direct hit on the third floor of our school. A mother in front of her very eyes had two of her children a five and a seven old killed. She lost both her legs and is now a double amputee. Now imagine the psychological scars that that person is going to be enduring for the rest of her life.

MAIGUA: You talked about the bombing of UN facilities, now with the ceasefire in place, are you getting any explanation from the Israeli Defense Force as to why the UN facilities were targeted?

GUNNESS: Well, on the ground we are getting factual information from the Israeli army and they have admitted fully that there were not militants in our compound in Gaza City or in our compound in Jabalia, which came under white phosphorus attack. So we are getting honest explanations and disclosure on the ground and we've also had apologies. The Secretary-General himself had an apology from the Israeli Prime Minister, but what we have said is we want an investigation. And where you have a situation where United Nations compounds with hundreds and hundreds of displaced people in them come under attacks, there has to be an investigation to see if a war crime has been committed.

MAIGUA: What are the immediate needs for the Palestinians in Gaza right now?

GUNNESS: They have to be absolutely sure that fighting has stopped. That's number one priority. There will be a huge pressure, I think, for people to get back to their homes. Already overnight between five and six thousand people left shelters to go and see what the situation was in their homes. Many of those returned because their homes are rather destroyed or uninhabitable. Of course, we have to try and restore normal life. That's a huge thing to say because the public health infrastructure is very badly damaged. Sewage, water, electricity. And beyond that, we have got to get people, eventually we've got to get children back to school, because it mustn't be forgotten amid all the talk of bombs and rubble and ceasefires that we are human development agency. We educate 200,000 children in Gaza and we have micro-finance projects to try and give people an escape from the poverty trap. We have a whole range of human development activities and they have got to be staffed as well, so a vast range of tasks for UNRWA today in Gaza.

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