Page last updated at 15:12 GMT, Thursday, 24 July 2008 16:12 UK

UK MPs call for talks with Hamas

Donkey cart with UN food aid
The UN feeds 650,000 people in the Gaza Strip every day

A UK parliamentary committee has called for dialogue with Hamas, as a UN report says poverty has reached an unprecedented high in the Gaza Strip.

Gaza's economy has been hit hard by an Israeli embargo tightened when the militant group took control last year.

Major world powers refuse to speak to Hamas unless it recognises Israel.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa, said 52% of Gaza households were living in poverty, and unemployment there had topped 45%.

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The House of Commons International Development Committee said in a report on Gaza that the current truce between Hamas and Israel, agreed on 19 June, "offers the international community an opportunity to begin a dialogue with Hamas".

The aim of the talks should be to move the group towards accepting principles laid down by the international community and to repairing the rift between it and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party, it said.

The so-called quartet - the US, EU, UN and Russia - has said it will not talk to Hamas unless it recognises Israel's right to exist, renounces violence and agrees to abide by agreements made by the Palestinian Authority.

'Engagement'

The senior Labour MP Ann Clwyd also backed the call for talks, telling the BBC it was "essential" that the international community engaged with Hamas.

GAZA EMBARGO
Imposed June 2007 after Hamas take over Gaza
Aid supplies disrupted, but access improved in first month
All non-humanitarian supplies severely restricted, including cement, raw materials, clothing, electrical goods, machinery spare parts
Embargo tightened in October 2007 in response to continued Palestinian rocket fire
Fuel supplies gradually reduced since then, and halted for five days in April 2008 after Palestinian attack on Nahal Oz terminal
Fuel shortages have affected sewage treatment, irrigation, water supply, power generation, rubbish collection
Small shipments of cement, clothes and shoes, and increased fuel deliveries since truce agreed
"They comprise a majority of elected parliamentarians that the Palestinian people voted for - they have a legitimate standing and should be treated in that way," she said. In its report, the committee described the humanitarian situation in Gaza as "acute", saying food, fuel and water were in "short supply" and the public health system "under severe pressure".

It said Israel had failed to meet its obligations under international law to ensure the health and welfare of the Palestinian population.

The MPs also said they considered the scale of Israeli military attacks and border restrictions to be "collective punishment" of Gazans.

The Unrwa report, based on figures from the Palestinian Authority said that GDP across the whole Palestinian economy was more than 8% below 1999 levels.

Population growth had left GDP per capita more than a third below 1999 levels, it said.

Correspondents say Gaza is much calmer and quieter since the ceasefire, but life there is still very hard.

GOODS ENTERING GAZA
Jan 07: 450 truckloads a day
May/June 08 (before truce): 99
June 08 (after truce): 148
Source: UN OCHA

Israel sealed the Strip off to virtually all but humanitarian supplies after Hamas militants took control in June 2007.

The blockade was further tightened in January 2008, in response to continued Palestinian rocket fire into Israel from Gaza.

Fuel imports were reduced after Palestinian militants attacked the Nahal Oz border crossing which usually deals with fuel deliveries.

Very few raw materials have been permitted to enter Gaza over the past year, leading to the virtual collapse of manufacturing industries.

Since the truce, Gaza has received its first cement for a year and more fuel has been allowed in.


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