OPT: Oxfam condemns the caging of Gaza

International agency calls for immediate opening of border

International agency Oxfam today condemned aid blockade of Gaza that is leaving 1.3 million people are on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. Oxfam called on all actors in the conflict to ensure that urgently needed food, medicine and water supplies are allowed in immediately.

The call comes as Israeli and Palestinian leaders meet today in Egypt. Oxfam is demanding that the reopening of Gaza's borders is placed at the top of the agenda so that essential supplies can get through. If not, the region's economy and basic services such as health and water systems will collapse.

Jeremy Hobbs Director of Oxfam International said:

"The international community is closing its eyes to its humanitarian obligations and allowing the suffering to intensify. Aid is being drip-fed across the border. The entrapment of Gaza is completely unacceptable. We urge the key players to resolve what has been a completely avoidable crisis."

According to the UN there are just days until food supplies will run out, fuel is scarce and essential medicines are also critically low. At least 100 trucks a day need to be going into Gaza to meet peoples essential needs, instead just 20 trucks are permitted to go in each day.

Oxfam's partner, the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) who operate the Beit Lahia Sewage Works fear that the works could burst swamping up to 10,000 in sewage and contaminate the water supplies of 300,000, creating a public health crisis. The CMWU has been waiting for over three months for $500,000 worth of equipment. There are only 10 days of chlorine supplies left and people may soon have to start to drink contaminated water.

Hobbs added:

"Withholding aid as a political weapon is bringing untold suffering to an entire population. This shames the international community. Water equipment has been waiting at Gaza's border for more than three months. These sanctions must cease immediately."

Oxfam is concerned that talks today in Sharm el Sheik will ignore the dire humanitarian needs of people in Gaza. It calls on Prime Minister Olmert to lift the blockade immediately and for Palestinian authorities to ensure that public service workers and humanitarian agencies can distribute urgently needed materials.

Western donors, together with the Palestinian authorities, must ensure that both emergency and development aid are allocated impartially throughout the Occupied Territories, on the basis of need, and are not used as a political tool. To do otherwise will further exacerbate partisan rivalry, to the detriment of the lives of ordinary Palestinians and to Israel's long-term security.

Notes to Editors:

For interviews with Barbara Stocking (Oxfam's Director), Adam Leach (Oxfam's Regional Director for the Middle East) or programme staff in Gaza and Jerusalem please call:

Shaista Aziz: 07810 814980 saziz@oxfam.org.uk / shaistajourno@yahoo.co.uk
Madiha Sultan (Arabic) 07872 933318 msultan@oxfam.org.uk / madihasultan@hotmail.com
Richard Stanforth: 07909820272 rstanforth@oxfam.org.uk.