OPT: UN-backed Middle East Quartet representative expresses concern at Gaza situation

The representative of the United Nations-backed Middle East Quartet has added his voice today to the growing international concerns about the humanitarian situation inside the Gaza Strip and the recent renewed violence in Gaza and Israel.

Tony Blair, the former United Kingdom prime minister, issued a statement saying he was "deeply concerned by the unfolding events" in Gaza, echoing a similar statement from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson yesterday.

Israel's closure of crossing points into Gaza this month following Palestinian rocket attacks has left the Strip, whose estimated 1.5 million inhabitants are largely dependent on outside aid, without access to many humanitarian supplies. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has warned that the situation is deteriorating quickly.

"The immediate reopening of Gaza for the regular entry of essential humanitarian and commercial goods, including fuel, food and medicines is vital, as are efforts by all parties to facilitate the travels of Gaza's pilgrims to the Holy City of Mecca for this year's Hajj season," Mr. Blair said in his statement.

He stressed that the truce on Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli military assaults, agreed upon in June, must be maintained as it has provided much-needed security for the residents of both southern Israel and Gaza.

"The only lasting solution to the desperate situation in Gaza will require an end to terrorist attacks, continued restraint, and the opening of the crossings. I reiterate the Quartet's previously stated call for the immediate resumption of stalled UN and other donor projects in Gaza, which will facilitate economic activity, reduce dependence on humanitarian assistance and restore links between Gaza and the West Bank.

"I also reiterate the Quartet's call for the immediate and unconditional release of Corporal [Gilad] Shalit," Mr. Blair said, referring to the Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants in June 2006.

The Quartet, whose members are the UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States, is spearheading international efforts to try to end the long-running Middle East conflict and lead to a solution where Israel and the Palestinians can live side by side in two States.