By ABE SELIG
United Nations humanitarian agencies and NGOs appealed to donors on Wednesday for $664.4 million to fund humanitarian aid programs in the Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.
Speaking at a press conference in east Jerusalem, UN and NGO representatives told reporters that the money was needed for over 230 projects, ranging from food and cash distribution to agriculture, education, and health and sanitation works.
The UN's humanitarian coordinator in the Palestinian territories, Maxwell Gaylard warned that the Gaza Strip was rapidly becoming a "welfare society" and said that some 80 percent of Gazans were currently living off of international aid.
"Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory continue to face a crisis of human dignity," Gaylard said. "The continued erosion of livelihoods and the denial of basic human rights together are compelling Palestinians to become more and more dependent on international aid."
Gaylard added that the need for such aid in the Gaza Strip had increased in the aftermath of the IDF's Operation Cast Lead last January, and that the UN was facing "difficult challenges" in meeting such needs "due to the Israeli import restrictions from the blockade and the lack of political progress."
Gaylard also called on Israel to lift the current blockade on the Gaza Strip, halt the demolition of Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem and ease movement in the West Bank.
"If the funding is not met with a freeze on house demolitions, evictions, and the construction of the [security] barrier, or if the blockade on Gaza isn't lifted, [the money] won't make much difference," Gaylard added.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post after the conference concluded, Christopher Gunness, the spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said, "It's absurd that we are asking the world community to pay hundreds of millions of dollars not just to mitigate the effects of the occupation, but of collective punishment."
Gunness said his organization "is appealing for a quarter of a million dollars in Gaza, and that is because collective punishment has forced hundreds of thousands of people below the poverty line this year alone."
He added that the number of Gaza residents living in abject poverty had jumped from 100,000 to 300,000 over the last year.
"And we're asking the world community to pay for it," he said.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.
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