UN official 'shocked' by Gaza's state

Visiting humanitarian Chief John Holmes says grim situation is result of the Israeli restrictions.

john holmes 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
john holmes 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The UN's top humanitarian affairs official said Friday he was shocked by a "grim and miserable" situation he encountered during a visit to impoverished Gaza, including to the main hospital, and urged that the territory's borders be opened. Israel and Egypt severely restricted access to Gaza after Hamas took control by force last June. Since then, Gaza's private sector has largely collapsed, and poverty among the area's 1.4 million residents has spread further, with some 80 percent now depending on some food aid. On Friday, John Holmes, the UN's undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, toured Gaza as part of a four-day visit to the region. Also on his itinerary is a visit to the border town of Sderot near Gaza, hit hard by rockets fired by Gaza terrorists. In Gaza, Holmes visited Gaza's largest hospital, Shifa, speaking to dialysis patients and stopping in the neo-natal department. He also toured the Karni industrial zone near the closed cargo crossing between Gaza and Israel. The industrial zone once employed 1,800 Palestinians, but has been idle since June, officials said. "I have been shocked by the grim and miserable things I have seen and heard about during the day," Holmes told reporters during a news conference at the main UN compound in Gaza. "These grim and miserable things are the result of the current restrictions on the crossings into Gaza, and the very limited amounts of foods and other materials being allowed in," he said. Holmes said the amount of goods entering Gaza had dropped to 10 percent of what it was a year ago. In recent weeks, Israel has also reduced the supply of fuel and electricity to Gaza, in an attempt to pressure Gaza terrorists to halt rocket fire. The reductions have prompted widespread power outages. "All this makes for a grim human and humanitarian situation here in Gaza, which means that people are not able to live with the basic dignity to which they are entitled," Holmes said. "So what is essentially needed is an opening of the crossings, a lot more goods coming in." Holmes said he would raise his concerns in meetings with Israeli government officials and representatives of the West Bank government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas' main rival. Government spokesman Mark Regev said an improvement depended on an end to rocket fire. "If terrorists in Gaza were to cease firing rockets into Israel, trying to kill our people, the situation could very quickly return to where it was," Regev said.