Middle East: UN envoy says resolution of Gaza crisis key to achieving regional peace

A rubble removal project at Shujaiyah, Gaza, is funded by Sweden and implemented by UNDP. Photo: UNDP

2 March 2015 – Peace in the Middle East hinges on resolving the ongoing crisis in Gaza, where reconstruction efforts are faltering and the blockade continues, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process, Robert Serry, said today during his final visit to the war-ravaged enclave.

In a statement issued earlier this morning, Mr. Serry, whose seven-year mandate is set to expire shortly, said he was encouraged that “some progress” towards the reconstruction of Gaza was being made but still lamented the “overall slow pace” of rebuilding.

According to a recent UN assessment, as it stands now, over 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in Gaza during last summer’s 51-day conflict between Israel and local militants. The destruction affected more than 600,000 people and many still lack access to the municipal water network. Meanwhile, blackouts of up to 18 hours per day are common.

In addition, the violence killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and more than 70 Israelis.

“I fully understand the frustration of people in Gaza,” the Special Coordinator declared. “Many of those who now have access to building materials lack the money to buy them or to carry out the works.”

He noted that the UN had been forced to suspend cash payments to refugee families due to a lack of donor support, observing that only a small percentage of the $5.4 billion pledged at the Cairo Reconstruction Conference last October had been disbursed.

“This is, frankly, unacceptable,” he added.

Moreover, Mr. Serry continued, the ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip had rendered the area “more isolated than ever” due to the many restrictions still in place at Israeli crossings and with the Rafah crossing “practically closed.”

“We, in the UN, have always been in the forefront in calling for an end to the blockade as a prerequisite for a stable, functioning economy in Gaza. You also cannot have a stable, functioning economy without a more durable ceasefire and a recognized, legitimate and inclusive Government leading Gaza’s recovery.”

He explained that the rehabilitation of Gaza would “take years,” particularly as not enough progress was being made to address the enclave’s “underlying issues.”

“Gaza is a political problem which must be addressed as part of ending the occupation and achieving a two-state solution,” Mr. Serry’s statement concluded. “I am convinced that there can be no peace without addressing Gaza’s needs first.”

Last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Nickolay Mladenov of Bulgaria as Mr. Serry’s replacement.

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