New conflict likely unless Israel ends Gaza blockade, says UN official

A senior UN aid official warns that a new conflict in Gaza is likely unless Israel lifts the blockade on the coastal Palestinian enclave.

James Rawley, the top UN humanitarian official for the Palestinian territories, told AFP in an interview that the international community has failed during more than a month of fighting between Israel and Hamas, which has killed more than 1,930 Palestinians, according to Hamas-run Gaza health ministry officials. Israel says 750-1,000 of the dead are Hamas and other gunmen. It also blames Hamas for all civilian fatalities, since Hamas set up its rocket-launchers, tunnel openings and other elements of its war machine in Gaza neighborhoods and uses Gazans as “human shields.” Israel has lost 64 soldiers and three civilians in the fighting.

“The blockade must be lifted not only to get material into Gaza in order to rebuild it but to allow Gaza to do what it was doing very well just 10 years ago, to trade with the outside world,” Rawley told AFP.

“Gaza has a tremendous potential. People are very entrepreneurial, they’re well educated, they have markets abroad, in Israel and the West Bank. The blockade has to be lifted in order that Gaza can thrive.”

Israel and the Palestinians committed to observe a fresh 72-hour truce from 00:01 am Monday, accepting an Egyptian initiative to broker indirect talks on fleshing out a longer-term truce.

The Palestinians’ primary demand is for Israel to lift a land and sea blockade, imposed in 2006 after Hamas captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

Hamas also wants fishing zones extended, and to have a port and an airport.

Rawley said Israel’s legitimate security concerns must be addressed but warned without ending the blockade that another round of fighting was “likely”.

“Not only will we see very little in the way of reconstruction, but I am afraid that the conditions are in place for us to have another round of violence like we’re seeing now,” he tells AFP in Gaza City.

“It (another conflict) would be likely… it doesn’t make me feel good to say that,” he says.

— AFP, Times of Israel staff

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