Aid Workers Protest Restricted Access to Gaza

Aid agencies have been protesting about their restricted access to Gaza since the 18 January ceasefire, stressing that the full opening of crossing points is crucial for the delivery of humanitarian aid.

“It is unacceptable that staff of international aid agencies with expertise in emergency response are still not given full access into Gaza, and that the crossings are not fully operational for humanitarian and commercial goods," said Charles Clayton, chair of the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA), which includes 75 agencies.

A recent CARE survey found that 89 percent of Gazans had not received humanitarian assistance since 27 December, underscoring the clear need, according to CARE, for more aid and humanitarian workers in Gaza.

CARE officer Juliette Seibold in Jerusalem told IRIN by phone on 26 January that eight of their staff members were still waiting for permits to enter to Gaza.

“If the ceasefire is holding, then any blockage of humanitarian access is unacceptable,” said Clayton.

The Israeli authorities are permitting 100-120 trucks to enter Gaza per day, according to the head of UNRWA (the UN agency for Palestinian refugees) in Gaza, John Ging.

However, “to meet the daily needs, hundreds of trucks are required,” he said, adding: “This is the same approach that led to this conflict. We need a change of policy regarding the crossing points. If they remain closed it will lead to more violence.”

Construction materials and spare parts are vital to repair damaged schools, hospitals, water and sewage systems, and power lines, but “these commodities are not available on Gaza’s market,” Oxfam spokesperson Sara-Eve Hammond, based in Jerusalem, told IRIN by phone, “and the Israeli authorities are waiting for specific donor requests to allow their entry.”

Blockade

Hamas, which controls Gaza, has set lifting the blockade – imposed on the impoverished coastal territory by Israel and Egypt since Hamas took power in June 2007 – as a condition for an Egyptian-brokered truce with Israel.

"Hamas has called for a complete lifting of the blockade and an opening of all the crossings," said Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha in Cairo.

“Hamas wants to avoid further Israeli military aggression in Gaza,” Hamas official Ghazi Hamad told IRIN by telephone. “People in Gaza are still bleeding.”

Israel, meanwhile, wants assurances that weapons smuggling into Gaza will stop.

Over 4,000 residences were completely destroyed and 17,000 were partially damaged, according to preliminary estimates by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.

(IRIN News)

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