Israel + 1 more

Press conference by Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on situation in Gaza, West Bank

Wheat flour and other essential supplies in Gaza would run out within two to three weeks, unless the main cargo crossing point into the territory -- one of many border crossings closed recently by Israel due to fighting between the Hamas and Fatah factions -- reopened soon, a senior United Nations humanitarian official said at a Headquarters news conference today.

"The situation we have at the moment is an extremely serious one," said David Shearer, Head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. "We're quite concerned about the ability to open those crossings and allow supplies -- commercial supplies more than relief supplies -- to start moving again."

Gaza's 1.4 million people relied on 450 tons of wheat flour every day to make bread, he said. Before the closure more than a week ago, 200 to 300 vehicles trucked in those supplies daily through the crossings, including the northern one at Karni. At least 150 trucks filled with wheat flour and other essential goods must make the daily trip just to keep basic operations going. But the Karni entry point, and Rafah on Gaza's southern border with Egypt -- the main crossing point for people -- remained closed after recent violence left dozens of people dead and severely hampered international relief operations that provided a lifeline for many Palestinians. Gaza had no functioning sea- or airport through which to deliver goods. Since the road crossing closures, bread prices had reportedly jumped 40 per cent due to the hoarding of wheat.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Food Programme (WFP) had been able to deliver some food and medical supplies into Gaza in the last few days, Mr. Shearer said. But the estimated 600 people needing regular treatment for cancer and other tertiary care that was not available in Gaza had not been able to leave.

Asked about the December 2006 United Nations consolidated appeal for humanitarian aid for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Mr. Shearer said approximately 30 per cent of the $454 million appeal had been received. That did not include the contribution of $40 million pledged by the United States to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)and announced earlier today.

Beginning his presentation with a series of maps showing the humanitarian situation on the ground, Mr. Shearer noted that, in the last seven years, gross domestic product in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had dropped by 40 per cent and poverty had risen from 22 per cent to more than 60 per cent. There were presently 450,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, where their number was growing at an annual rate of 5.5 per cent, mainly in the western area.

Israel's construction of the "separation barrier" was well advanced, reaching 14 miles into the West Bank at some points, he said, adding that 10 per cent of the West Bank -- including some of its most significant parts -- lay between that barrier and the "Green Line" separating Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.