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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 13:27 GMT
Palestinians battered by blockade
Palestinian family
One in three Palestinians live below the poverty line
By Middle East analyst Roger Hardy

The United Nations' special envoy to the Middle East has called on Israel to end its restrictions on Palestinian workers and goods.

The envoy, Terje Larsen, was speaking as he presented a UN report on the harsh impact of Israel's blockade of Gaza and the West Bank on the Palestinian economy.

Israeli roadblock
Restrictions on movement have made it hard for many Palestinians to work
Unemployment among Palestinians has risen from 12% to 40%.

One in three Palestinians are living below the poverty line - that is to say, they have to survive on $2 a day or less.

Factories have been closed, farmers cannot market their produce, and children and teachers cannot get to their schools.

'Siege of Gaza'

In the words of Mr Larsen, three years of economic progress have been wiped out in two months of conflict.

He called for urgent action to improve Palestinian living conditions, and urged Israel to end what he called its "siege" of Gaza and the West Bank.

An Israeli blockade has been in force since the Palestinian intifada erupted in September.

Israeli officials insist this is for security reasons and say it is not their aim to strangle the Palestinian economy.

Palestinian workers
Those who can work often do so under the watchful eye of the Israeli army
But some right-wingers, including the former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, openly advocate even harsher economic pressure as a means of crushing the intifada.

An Israeli general said on Tuesday that Israel would lift the blockade of Gaza if Palestinian officials re-arrested the dozens of Islamic militants they have recently released from their jails.

The European Union and a number of Arab states have promised emergency aid to the Palestinians.

But this will not have much short-term impact on a population that has become so accustomed to hardship that many feel they have nothing to lose.

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04 Dec 00 | Middle East
Fears for a traumatised generation
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