Staple foods in short supply

Unemployed Palestinians protest to demand jobs in front of the Palestinian parliament building in Gaza, 29 August 2006. (MaanImages/Wesam Saleh)

GAZA CITY — A United Nations aid agency has warned that Israel’s intermittent closure of crossings into Gaza is severely hampering its ability to bring in food. Every two months, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) gives out food to Palestinian refugees living in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian-administered area bordering Israel and Egypt.

Its latest food delivery has been delayed by a lack of access. “Food distribution will not start until we can get our products into Gaza. The 830,000 refugees we feed will not have any food from us,” said John Ging, UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza.

UNRWA usually brings food supplies through the Karni Crossing, a cargo terminal on the eastern end of a barrier between Israel and the Gaza Strip. But Israel has closed the crossing, saying it discovered a tunnel that could be used to attack its border personnel.

“We had to close the checkpoint because we have civilians working there and we don’t want them killed by the Palestinians,” said Shlomo Dror, spokesman for Israel’s Government Coordination Office, which monitors the humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Dror told IRIN that Israel had offered to open other border crossings such as Sufa, which is farther south - but said the Palestinian authorities had refused.

“We are dependent on this border opening up,” said Ging. “We have no alternative. The local market cannot supply us with the quantities [of food] that we need. We tried to source two weeks’ supply of lentils locally. We needed 200 tonnes, only half that was available.”

Ging told IRIN that last year, Israel had closed the crossings into Gaza 19 per cent of the time, which was manageable. So far this year, Israel had closed the crossings more than 50 per cent of the time, he said, which made UNRWA’s task impossible.

Karni was the only crossing equipped to handle the quantities of food UNRWA needs. “They [Israeli authorities] are making an honest effort but there’s no substitute for the commercial crossing. There is no comparable alternative in terms of quantity. That is the weakness of the Gaza Strip. We are talking about hundreds of containers.”

Ging said there were some local vegetables as well as fruit like grapes and figs, though apples, bananas and oranges were now unavailable.

More urgently, four of Gaza’s seven mills were unable to bake bread because they had no flour. “There is nobody starving at the moment, but certain staple foods are unavailable,” he said.

This item comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All IRIN material may be reposted or reprinted free-of-charge; refer to the copyright page for conditions of use. IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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