UNRWA chief says almost all Gaza projects halted

Outgoing commissioner of Palestinian refugee agency calls on Israel to lift restrictions on imports to Hamas-run Strip

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Palestinian vendors sit in front of a building under construction at the main road in Gaza City, Thursday, June 27, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Adel Hana)
Palestinian vendors sit in front of a building under construction at the main road in Gaza City, Thursday, June 27, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Adel Hana)

Nineteen out of twenty projects run by the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip have “ground to a halt,” the body’s outgoing commissioner general said Tuesday.

Since March, Israel has not approved any new projects by the UN Relief and Works Agency, Filippi Grandi told the Advisory Commission of governments hosting or donating to Palestinian refugees. In addition, UNRWA has not been able to import building materials for the past month, Grandi charged.

Israel suspended the import of construction materials after the IDF discovered a Hamas tunnel in October that used 500 tons of cement.

“Given that Israel does not allow exports and hence a resumption of normal economic activities, prices are rising because commodities are becoming scarce, lack of fuel has provoked the closure of the power plant, the few jobs available in the construction industry are disappearing; and the list continues,” Grandi said.

“Gaza is quickly becoming uninhabitable,” Grandi warned, “and further conflict is bound, as before, to affect civilians in Gaza and southern Israel, unless its causes are addressed.”

Grandi blamed Israel for harming Gazan civilians through its security policies.

“Perhaps strengthening the human security of the people of Gaza is a better avenue to ensuring regional stability than physical closures, political isolation and military action,” he said.

The Hamas-run Gaza Strip has been under a blockade since 2007, after the terrorist group violently took control of the territory — a blockade confirmed legal in 2011 by a UN panel charged with investigating the restrictions.

On Tuesday, Jeffrey Feltman, the top UN political chief, also expressed his displeasure over the restrictions on building materials.

“Virtually all construction projects in Gaza, including for the United Nations, have been suspended, putting thousands of people out of work,” said Feltman. “During the last several years, the United Nations has implemented a growing package of housing, schools and infrastructure projects with stringent control procedures, agreed to with the Government of Israel, to preserve the integrity of each project and avoid misuse of materials.

“While we recognize Israel’s legitimate security concerns, we are confident that those procedures remain adequate. We therefore call on Israel to urgently reconsider its decision to temporarily halt the import of construction material into Gaza,” he said.

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