UN coordinator demands Israel reopen Gaza crossings
John Holmes says "blockade" of Strip is "unacceptable" and "disturbing."
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
Israel’s “blockade” of Gaza is “unacceptable,” and it should fully open the Gaza passages to goods, said UN humanitarian coordinator John Holmes on Tuesday.“It is disturbing to see that more than a year after Cast Lead, the unacceptable blockade continues and all that we can offer to the people of Gaza is limited to temporary shelters and emergency assistance,” Holmes said at a press conference in Gaza, where he had gone as part of his four day trip to the region.Holmes called on Israel to reopen the passages so the people in Gaza could lead normal lives.Since his last visit to Gaza in the aftermath of the January 2009 IDF incursion, Holmes said, “there have been some marginal access improvements in some sectors during the past months, including the import of glass, which we welcome.”However, “this falls far short of what is needed to rebuild livelihoods and avoid Gaza sliding backwards,” he said. “No meaningful reconstruction has started yet. I could see for myself today the continuing erosion of livelihoods and people’s ability to lead anything resembling a normal life.”He told Al Jazeera that Gaza was “a kind of open air prison” where its people have suffered “collective punishment” for the last three years.Israel’s policy of closing the passages to all but humanitarian goods is “ineffective,” has “resulted in misery” and is only breeding “despair,” he said.The passages were first closed by Israel once Fatah was no longer able to man the crossings on the Palestinian side because it had been ousted from the area by Hamas in 2007.Since then, Israel has also linked the closures to the rockets that Gaza Palestinians launch against Israel and to the continued captivity of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.Holmes called Tuesday for Hamas to release Schalit and at the veryleast to allow him to receive visits from the International Red Cross.But he rejected any link between the soldier’s captivity and the fateof the 1.5 million people living in Gaza.On Wednesday, Holmes returned to Israel, where he met with formerMeretz Party chairman Yossi Beilin, members of Israeli NGOs andrepresentatives of UN agencies involved in humanitarian work.
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