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UNRWA chief calls for end to blockade of Gaza

February 17, 2014 at 11:20 pm

A high-ranking UN official has called for the lifting of the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip, and for the world to address “the real problems underlying the crisis.”

The Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) described the Israeli blockade as illegal, calling for it  to be lifted entirely. “The siege should be lifted in all its aspects,” said Filippo Grandi,” including border crossings, fishing zones and imports and exports.” He demanded that, at the same time, “proper guarantees” should be “given to – and by – all parties in respect of the security of all civilians.”

Grandi told a meeting of UNRWA’s Advisory Commission in Jordan that addressing the root causes of the issue requires “difficult political work” to be carried out, “including the promotion and support of lasting Palestinian unity.” Failure to act now, he warned, “will have dire consequences”.

The senior UN official also noted that “the greatest danger is to return to the status quo ante, and restore the prison-like conditions of Gaza.” Mr. Grandi stressed that if that happens, it would only be “a matter of time” until violence resumes.

He added that the crisis in Gaza is “about the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a broader sense, with all its elements, including the situation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”

Grandi and the advisory committee also reviewed the crisis in Syria, pointing out that concerns have grown about the well-being of half a million Palestinian refugees there. “The vast majority of Palestinians in Syria have tried to maintain their neutrality which protected them in the past,” he said. “However, there are explicit efforts trying to drag them into the conflict, and thus it is not hard to imagine that they will increasingly become targets of the attacks in the midst of a situation where the killing of civilians, kidnapping them, destroying their homes and spreading fear is so common that they are no longer feature in the news headlines.”

He briefed the commission on UNRWA’s work in Syria: “UNRWA’s strategy in Syria, as in Gaza, is to be there, to maintain services, and to address the growing emergency needs as much as possible.” Grandi reminded the commission that UNRWA possesses proven operational abilities, through its existing staff capacity and infrastructure.

Although he is due to step down as Commissioner-General, Mr. Grandi advised UNRWA staff that he is extending his term of office for a further year, until 20 January, 2014. This, he said, is to ensure some stability for the agency at a time of difficult political challenges, turbulence and regional volatility.