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Gaza Still Waiting for Pledged Aid: UN Official

BRUSSELS - None of a $4.5 billion package of reconstruction aid recently pledged for the Gaza Strip has got through because of border restrictions, a top U.N. official said on Thursday.

A Palestinian boy eats bread near the ruins of destroyed houses in Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, February 2009. (AFP/File/Mohammed Abed) International donors pledged the aid money in March to help the Palestinian economy and rebuild Gaza after a three-week Israeli military offensive.

But John Ging, head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, said Gaza had still not benefited from any of the aid because of restrictions on the flow of goods into the territory.

"There is no prospect of recovery or reconstruction until we can get access for construction materials," Ging said.

"Billions of dollars were pledged for recovery and reconstruction and yet none of that can actually connect with those whose lives were destroyed," he told a news briefing during a trip to European Union headquarters in Brussels.

Israel has said it had opened Gaza's border to larger amounts of food and medicine since the December-January offensive against Hamas militants who control the Palestinian enclave and were firing rockets against Israeli towns.

The war destroyed some 5,000 homes and, according to figures from a Palestinian rights group, killed over 1,400 people.

Since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in a 2007 civil war with Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's secular Fatah faction, Israel has tightened its blockade of the 30-mile (45-km) strip in an effort to weaken Hamas's hold on power.

Egypt has also restricted crossings at its border with Gaza.

Ging said the international community should find a solution to the border crossings issue and provide more access to goods and services for the inhabitants of Gaza.

"Today the money is out there in pledges and the people of Gaza continue to subsist in the rubble of their former lives and the attention of the world has sadly moved on, which compounds the despair that people feel," he said.

Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said on a visit to Gaza on Thursday the situation was alarming and warned that issues such as Palestinian reconciliation and secure borders had to be addressed.

"In the absence of real progress on issues like Palestinian reconciliation, open crossings, secure borders and a prisoners exchange, the potential for renewed violence is ever-present," Serry said in a statement.

(Reporting by Bate Felix; editing by Mark John and Charles Dick)

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