Hunger and malnutrition are stalking Palestinians trapped in territory that has been under a concerted siege by Israeli forces since the end of last month, the United Nations food body warned Monday.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Monday that millions of
people were "severely impoverished and extremely food insecure" in the West
Bank and Gaza Strip because of blockades by Israeli forces on routes into the occupied territories.
"Many homes are now without water and electricity, and what little food they
have is rotting," according to a special alert from the Rome-based organization issued yesterday, noting that increases in still births by women in the West Bank were an indication that malnutrition was on the rise.
The warning from the FAO echoed similar concerns raised by New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), which urged the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) to allow humanitarian and rights organizations "unfettered access" to the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank where inhabitants had no access to food, water, and medical supplies.
"If the IDF can organize journalist tours of the camp, why doesn't it allow
in food, water, and other essential goods?" said Hanny Megally, HRW's executive
director of the Middle East and North Africa division. "It is imperative to allow humanitarian and human rights groups into the camp."
Trucks laden with food, water, and medicines had been waiting outside the camp for four days said HRW, and residents were prevented from exiting the compound by a curfew imposed during reprisals for a Palestinian suicide attack that killed 22 Israelis last month.
B'Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights group, said that some 50 Palestinian in the Jenin camp, including 14 children, were suffering from serious water and food shortages. "It has been over four days since they last ate anything," said the group.
The FAO blamed the crisis on measures taken by the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon following the start of the al-Aqsa intifada, or uprising, which ensued in September 2000 after Sharon, then defense minister, visited the site of one of Islam's holiest mosques, in Jerusalem.
The visit provoked a catalog of attacks and counter-attacks which have plunged the region into turmoil and claimed the lives of more than 1,200 people, the vast majority on the Palestinian side. The changing global political climate caused by the attacks on New York and Washington one year later, strengthened the resolve of the Sharon administration to act alongside allies of the United States in the "war against terrorism."
In addition to the wave of recent incursions across the West Bank, Israel severely curbed trade flows between Palestinian territories and markets in Israel and the rest of the world, paralyzing the local economy, which is nearly totally dependent on that of its neighbor. Before the incursions, Israel accounted for over 95 percent of Gaza's total agricultural imports and almost 100 percent of its exports.
Israel had also confiscated swathes of agricultural land and quantities of water from the West Bank and Gaza, said the FAO, which has left the territories with well below their usual annual level of 112 cubic meters of water per person, less than one-third of Israel's 377 cubic meters per person.
The UN body also voiced "serious concern" about the large-scale destruction of Palestinian food-related infrastructure, including farm assets such as warehouses, greenhouses, irrigation systems, and other water facilities.
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