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UN: Gaza on Brink of Humanitarian Disaster

Suleiman al-Khalidi

Palestinians queue with their cooking gas bottles at a station in the central Gaza Strip refugee camp of al-Nusseirat on August 2008. Israel said it will maintain its closure of the Gaza Strip despite international concern over a deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the aid-dependent Palestinian territory. (AFP/File/Mahmud Hams)

AMMAN - Gaza faces a humanitarian "catastrophe" if
Israel continues to prevent aid reaching the territory by blocking
crossing points, the head of the main U.N. aid agency for the
Palestinians said on Friday.

Karen AbuZayd,
commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency
(UNRWA), said the human toll of this month's sealing of Gaza's goods
crossings was the gravest since the early days of a Palestinian
uprising eight years ago.

"It's been closed for so much longer
than ever before... and we have nothing in our warehouses... It will be
a catastrophe if this persists, a disaster," said AbuZayd, whose agency
is the largest aid body providing services to Palestinian refugees.

Israel closed the crossings after Palestinian militants responded with
daily rocket salvoes to an Israeli army incursion on Nov. 4 into the
Hamas-run territory, where a five-month-old, Egyptian-brokered
ceasefire had largely been holding.

At present, UNRWA provides
rations for 820,000 people classed as refugees and the United Nations'
World Food Programme aids a further 200,000 people, AbuZayd told
Reuters in Amman.

"They often bring us to the brink but they
never have let us really be frightened about whether we are going to
have food tomorrow or not," AbuZayd said.

Israel had restricted
goods into Gaza despite the truce, which calls on militants to halt
rocket attacks in return for Israel easing its embargo on the territory.

"This time throughout this whole truce since June none of us have been
able to bring in anything extra that would create a reserve so we had
nothing to call upon," she said.

She said people were sweeping warehouses because there is now nothing in them.

Israel also held up deliveries of European Union-funded fuel for the
power plant, which generates about a third of the electricity consumed
by Gazans. The rest comes from Israel, which was continuing supply, and

UNRWA's food basket, which comprised nearly 60 percent
of daily needs, including milk powder and sugar, had run out, AbuZayd
said. Most of the flour in mills would be consumed by end of the month.

Ailments associated with insufficient food were surfacing among the
impoverished coastal strip's 1.5 million population, including growing

"There is a chronic anaemia problem. There are
signs that's increasing. What we are beginning to notice is what we
call stunting of children ... which means they are not eating well
enough to be bigger than their parents," AbuZayd added.

The humanitarian plight of Gazans was by far the worst among the more than 4.6 million Palestinian refugees across the region.

"They are not just under occupation, they are under siege," AbuZayd said.

Editing by Giles Elgood

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