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Last Updated: Monday, 18 June 2007, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
Supplies 'urgently needed' in Gaza
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Jerusalem

Gazans fill barrels with petrol
People in Gaza have been stocking up on essential supplies

With the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip now relatively peaceful following last week's bloody fighting, the humanitarian situation has eased - at least for now.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), which temporarily suspended some of its services during the fighting, is now working at full capacity.

"(Unrwa's operations in Gaza) have returned to levels seen before the current round of fighting," said the agency's commissioner-general, Karen AbuZayd.

The agency provides food distribution and health services to about a million Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, almost two thirds of the territory's population.

During the worst of the fighting, Unrwa was forced to close three of its five food distribution centres and seven of its 18 health clinics. Two of the agency's employees were killed in crossfire.

Emergency supplies

But the UN is warning that unless Israel opens the borders to allow food and other essential items into the Gaza Strip, the territory - which imports nearly all its supplies from Israel - faces a humanitarian crisis.

Since the fighting erupted last week, Israel has kept Gaza's borders closed, and the UN says that it is has only 10 days of essential supplies left.

"Our major concern is getting the borders open to bring in food and medicine," said Unrwa director John Ging. "While we have reserves for emergencies, it takes time to then build up them again to deal with the next crisis."

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel was aware of the humanitarian dangers facing the Gaza Strip.

"We will work together with the international community to avert a humanitarian crisis," he said.

"Israel has no interest in seeing the current difficult situation in Gaza getting any worse, and we're looking for practical solutions to improve conditions."

Israeli officials have also said they will continue supplying water and electricity to the territory.

Panic buying

For now, however, Israel is allowing only the staff of international organisations, people with special permission and humanitarian cases to pass through Gaza's crossings.

Red Cross medical supplies were allowed to enter Gaza on Monday.

With so much uncertainty in the territory, there has been panic buying among its residents.

Many Gazans are stockpiling food and other supplies, and that has led to an increase in prices.

Some of those fears were alleviated after the sole provider of petroleum to Gaza, the Israeli company Dor Alon, renewed shipments that were cut off last week.

But some right-wing Israeli politicians advocate cutting off the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip completely from Israeli supplies, because the radical Islamist group is committed in its charter to Israel's destruction.




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