The top UN humanitarian official is venting anger on Israel for maintaining a crippling siege on the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in return for the release of a captured soldier.
“Obviously we’ve called for the release of Cpl Shalit, and that he should be treated in accordance to the Geneva conventions,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said, the BBC News Online reported Friday, March 12.
“But the link between that and the fate of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza does not seem to us a reasonable one.”
Shalit, now 23, was captured by Palestinian resistance fighters in a cross-border attack in June 2006.
Israel links the lifting of the crippling siege, imposed on Gaza after Hamas was voted to power in 2006, to the soldier’s release.
The Palestinians stipulate the soldier’s release for setting free some of the 11,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
“We continue to call for the relaxation of this blockade on Gaza and the entry of goods in a normal way, to allow reconstruction and to allow the Gazans to live something more like a normal life,” Holmes said.
The choking blockade has badly deteriorated the living conditions in the impoverished seaside enclave.
The situation worsened after Israel launched a three-week deadly onslaught on Gaza in December 2008, killing more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians.
The offensive wrecked havoc on the infrastructure of the densely-populated enclave, leaving some 20,000 homes and thousands other buildings in ruins.
“What people in Gaza want to see is the opening of the crossings, not only for goods, but for people, because they are living in a large open-air prison,” Holmes said.
“They feel very frustrated, they feel very despairing, they feel their future is extremely limited.”
The UN official blasted Israel over non-stop settlement activities, which nip the peace efforts in the bud.
“The settlements have been illegal since those territories have been occupied in 1967, and that’s been a very consistent position of the United Nations, but also virtually all of the international community,” Holmes said.
“They’re illegal and should be stopped and they’ve always been regarded as an obstacle to peace.”
Israel’s continued expansion of settlements is one of the biggest obstacles to the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected calls by US President Barack Obama to freeze settlement building to help resume peace talks.
On Tuesday, the Israeli government announced plans to build 1,600 new settler homes in Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem), drawing international criticism.
The Israeli group Ir Amim revealed Thursday that the Israeli government is planning 50,000 settlement units in Al-Quds, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
“The continuing settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the continuing settlement expansion in the West Bank has been part of the problems of the continuing creation of facts on the ground,” said Holmes.
There are more than 164 Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, eating up more than 40 percent of the occupied territory.
The international community considers all Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land illegal.
“I mean it’s not just the settlements, but the route the barrier has taken – all the different restrictions on the use of roads, which exist and the closures, which exist in the West Bank and elsewhere,” said Holmes.
“It’s all that that creates this problem of a reality on the ground, which is difficult to square with the solution everybody’s aiming at.”
(IslamOnline.net and Agencies)