The European Union has warned of “serious consequences” for Middle East regional security if the Gaza Strip’s dire economic and humanitarian situation is not addressed.
A report commissioned by EU consuls-general in East Jerusalem and Ramallah urged Israel to ease access restrictions to the blockaded Palestinian territory, especially in light of an unprecedented crackdown by the new Egyptian regime on Gaza’s western border.
“Today, Gaza is facing a dangerous and pressing humanitarian and economic situation… (including) the cessation of imports of construction materials; rising unemployment, rising prices and increased food insecurity,” the report said.
“If left unaddressed, the situation could have serious consequences for stability in Gaza, for security more widely in the region as well as for the peace process itself,” it said, referring to ongoing US-backed Israeli-Palestinian talks.
“Israel bears the prime responsibility for the situation in Gaza,” it said, adding that a seventh consecutive year of blockading the Strip had caused “further deterioration of the humanitarian situation and of the economic and social conditions.”
The report highlighted the economic damage caused by both the blockade Israel imposed in 2006, and Egypt’s destruction of hundreds of cross-border tunnels after the July ouster of president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, an ally of the Hamas Islamist movement that governs Gaza.
“For several years, these tunnels kept Gaza’s economy afloat… accounting for more than 80 percent of Gaza’s supply of construction materials, medical supplies, food, and other goods,” it said.
The resulting lack of fuel has led to up to 16 hours per day of power outages in the coastal enclave of some 1.7 million people.
Additionally, “the lack of construction activity is of great concern as the construction sector has been the primary employer in the Gaza Strip since 2008.”
The report also called for reconciliation between Hamas and its West Bank-based rivals Fatah, who have failed to patch up their differences since Hamas took over the Strip after fierce infighting in 2007.
A uniting of the Palestinian factions would help ensure human rights laws are respected by Hamas, and would help push forward the Israel-Palestinian talks, the report said.
Any peace agreement would go to a popular referendum, including in the Gaza Strip, which was an “integral” part of a future Palestinian state.
Hamas opposes the talks with its archenemy Israel.