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Last Updated: Friday, 8 September 2006, 03:46 GMT 04:46 UK
Call for foreign monitors in Gaza
Family mourns girl killed in Israeli raid in northern Gaza
More than 200 Palestinians have died in Israel's recent siege of Gaza
Conditions for Gaza's Palestinians may be improved by assigning a force of international observers to monitor border crossings, a UN official says.

Karen AbuZayd, head of a UN agency aiding Palestinian refugees, said sealed borders were crippling Gaza.

She said a 10-week Israeli blockade had brought Gaza to "breaking point".

International monitors of the type deployed at the Rafah border could help open vital crossings and ease the pressure on the economy, she said.

"It would be great to have an international presence, civilian, military, whatever," she said, adding that an international force of peacekeepers could offer Gaza's 1.5m people some protection.

Israel has kept Gaza's borders largely sealed as it conducts military operations inside the territory, prompted by the capture of an Israeli soldier in June.

Rafah example

Ms AbuZayd suggested foreign monitors may be able to help some of Gaza's border crossings re-open more frequently, enabling goods and people to move freely.

Children join protests over unpaid wages in Gaza City
The situation in Gaza is a 'ticking bomb', the UN has warned

She said EU monitors had successfully enabled Gaza's Egyptian border crossing at Rafah to function until its closure by Israel earlier this summer.

"It allowed people to move," she said. "It was very exciting for people who'd been under occupation for 37 years to finally get out of their country."

An Israeli spokeswoman quoted by the Associated Press news agency said the international community must urge Palestinians "to stop terror and to recognize Israel".

'Ticking bomb'

Ms AbuZayd said Israeli military actions had deepened suffering and mass despair in Gaza.

She also criticised a temporary mechanism set up to deliver aid to the Palestinians as a "stopgap measure" that had not improved Gaza's "appallingly low standards of living".

Foreign aid donors established the mechanism in May in order to deliver limited funds for Palestinian public services.

Donations to the Palestinians had been suspended over the recently-elected Hamas government's refusal to recognise Israel and renounce violence.

UN humanitarian chief Jan Egeland recently described conditions in Gaza as a "ticking bomb".

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