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Last Updated: Friday, 15 February 2008, 19:49 GMT
UN shocked by 'grim' life in Gaza
John Holmes is shown around Gaza (15 February 2008)
Mr Holmes was alarmed by the level of unemployment and poverty
The UN's top humanitarian affairs official has said he was shocked by the "grim and miserable" situation he witnessed on a visit to the Gaza Strip.

Undersecretary General John Holmes said it was the result of Israel closing its border crossings and the "limited food and other materials" allowed in.

Mr Holmes said 80% of Gaza's 1.5m population now depended on food aid.

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev said the situation could "very quickly return to where it was" if rocket attacks ceased.

Israel tightened its blockade of Gaza last month after a sharp rise in rocket attacks by militants based there.

The restrictions prompted militants from the Islamist movement Hamas, which controls Gaza, to blast holes in the border with Egypt on 23 January.

The breaches were sealed by Egyptian security forces only on 3 February, by which time hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had taken the opportunity to cross into Egypt and obtain essential supplies.

'Basic dignity denied'

As part of a four-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Mr Holmes toured the Shifa Hospital, the largest in the Gaza Strip, and the Karni industrial zone near the closed cargo crossing on the Israeli border.

"I have been shocked by the grim and miserable things I have seen and heard about during the day," he told reporters at the main UN compound in Gaza City.

What is essentially needed is an opening of the crossings, a lot more goods coming in
John Holmes
UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

"[They] are the result of the current restrictions on the crossings into Gaza, and the very limited amounts of foods and other materials being allowed in."

Mr Holmes, who is also the UN's emergency relief co-ordinator, said the level of goods entering Gaza had dropped to 10% of what it was a year ago.

He said the Israeli restrictions had led to the collapse of the territory's economy, which in turn caused widespread unemployment and poverty. As a result, some 80% of Gazans now depended on food aid, he added.

"All this makes for a grim human and humanitarian situation here in Gaza, which means that people are not able to live with the basic dignity to which they are entitled," he said.

"So what is essentially needed is an opening of the crossings, a lot more goods coming in."

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