UN, aid agencies appeal for $462m to address "humanitarian crisis" in Palestinian territories.
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
Calling the closure of the Gaza border "collective punishment" and demanding that Israel allow humanitarian aid into the area in spite of Palestinian rocket attacks, the United Nations asked for $462 million on Wednesday to continue its assistance to Palestinians in 2009.
This is the largest sum the United Nations has requested from donor countries for the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, said Filippo Grandi, the deputy commissioner for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.
He spoke with journalists at a Jerusalem press conference launching the drive, which aims for $9m. more than last year's request of $453m. Only $313 of that amount (69 percent) was actually funded.
Given that only 67% of the $4.7 billion worldwide drive for humanitarian assistance in 2008 was funded, United Nations officials in Jerusalem said the money raised last year for Palestinians showed that donor countries took this cause seriously.
Slightly less than half of the 2009 funding for Palestinians, $209m., is slated for food supplies. A large portion of that sum is to go to Gaza.
"In spite of the all the talk about peace and reconciliation, about lifting obstacles and improving the economy, little if anything has been achieved or felt [in the last year] by the people in the West Bank and Gaza," said Grandi.
"Last year we had some preliminary hope that the Annapolis process would work. One year after, there is little that we can say in terms of real improvement," he continued, adding that for the first time, more than 50% of the families in Gaza now live below the poverty line.
The situation worsened on November 4, when the cease-fire broke down and Israel closed the border altogether. By November 14, UNRWA ran out of food and began turning away some 20,000 Palestinians a day in Gaza.
On Wednesday, Israel reopened the Gaza crossings for only the third time since November 4 to allow 39 trucks of humanitarian aid through Kerem Shalom and another 20 truckloads of grain and fuel through the Karni crossing.
Last month, 160 truckloads of goods went into Gaza a day, according to Maj. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the coordinator of government activities in the territories.
Still, said Grandi, Israel did not utilize the cease-fire to allow the UN to rebuild its reserve supplies to such a level that it could withstand a prolonged closure like the one that occurred this month.
The people in Gaza should have benefited more from the cease-fire than they did, by seeing a higher increase of activity at the crossings, he added.
In protest of this month's closure, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the Palestinian Territories Maxwell Gaylard said it was "a massive assault on the human rights of the people in Gaza." He added that it was "collective punishment."
Both Gaylard and Grandi condemned the continual rocket fire from the Palestinians in Gaza at the southern border, but said that it did not justify its closure to humanitarian aid.
"As we sit here today, there are plenty of individual countries of the United Nations, including the Quartet, who are calling for a new strategy for Gaza," said Gaylard.
In response, Lerner said it was Hamas that bore the responsibility for the Gaza border closures, because of its attacks against Israel.
"Israel is trying to meet the humanitarian requirements [of the people in Gaza], but even those are impeded by the rocket situation," he said.
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