U.N. Official Criticizes Gaza Closure

By Karin Laub
Associated Press
Saturday, February 16, 2008

GAZA CITY, Feb. 15 -- The eight-month closure of the Gaza Strip has created "grim and miserable" conditions that deprive Palestinians of their basic dignity, the U.N. humanitarian chief said Friday.

John Holmes, undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, visited Gaza during the day and urged that the territory's borders be reopened to relieve the suffering.

Israel and Egypt severely restricted access to Gaza after the radical Islamic group Hamas seized the territory in June.

Since then, only a few dozen trucks carrying food, medicine and other staples have been permitted into Gaza each day, while most exports are banned.

The closure has driven up poverty and unemployment, and the United Nations says about 80 percent of Gaza's 1.5 million people now get some food aid.

"All this makes for a grim human and humanitarian situation here in Gaza, which means that people are not able to live with the basic dignity to which they are entitled," Holmes told reporters in Gaza.

The extent of suffering in Gaza has been a subject of dispute. Palestinians and human rights groups say hardship is widespread, while Israeli government officials have accused Hamas of trying to manufacture a humanitarian crisis for political gain.

It was Holmes's first visit to Gaza as humanitarian affairs chief, part of a four-day trip that also includes a stop in the Israeli town of Sderot, which has been hit hard by rocket fire from Gaza.

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