UN food aid agency calls for permanent opening of crossing from Israel to Gaza

Palestinian refugees carries sacks of food they received by the United Nation Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) at Rafah refugee camp in Gaza city March 21, 2006. Israel reopened the main goods crossing into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday for the second time in as many days amid warnings by Palestinian officials and international aid agencies of a looming humanitarian crisis. (MaanImages/Hatem Omar)

With the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip deteriorating and food and other supplies running short due to Israeli closures, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that it was crucial for this week’s 48-hour opening of the Karni crossing point to become permanent.

WFP, which provides food aid to some 160,000 Palestinians in Gaza, was able to bring in 16 containers, containing 300 tons of food, mainly beans and vegetable oil, but this was a very limited amount, agency spokesperson Christiane Berthiaume told a news briefing in Geneva.

A further problem was that the Israeli authorities were not allowing WFP to bring out the empty containers, and the agency needed to fill them again and bring them back in. Israel closed the crossing earlier this month, citing security concerns.

A second crossing, Kerem-Shalom on the Egyptian side, had been opened and WFP would try to bring food in from there, but it was a new checkpoint and was not yet organized sufficiently to bring in the amount of food required, Ms. Berthiaume said.

Five trucks, containing 260 tons of food donated by Egypt, had gone through, mainly with wheat flour.

It was very important for the two checkpoints to stay open, and crucial in the case of Karni not only for food relief but also for commercial transactions.

There was currently very little wheat flour in the Gaza Strip, which required 450 tons per day. The 300 tons of other foods that had been brought in would not feed many people for very long and WFP was currently investigating how it could buy wheat flour outside Gaza and bring it in, Ms. Berthiaume said.

Earlier this week, WFP appealed to the Israeli authorities to allow consignments to reach the tens of thousands of people who depend on outside assistance to survive, warning that the extended closures of Karni could have had a devastating effect.

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