|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Emergency Relief Coordinator’s Recent Visit
to Israel, Occupied Palestinian Territory
An easing of the Gaza blockade and restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank would lead to greater economic activity, which in turn could greatly reduce the need for humanitarian assistance in the occupied territories, the top United Nations humanitarian official said at Headquarters today.
“Aid is needed because of a lack of economic development,” Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said at a press conference on her recent visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
From 14 to 17 May, Ms. Amos said, she had visited Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank, where many communities were affected by house demolitions in addition to being isolated by restrictive zoning and the separation barrier. She had also visited the town of Sderot in Israel, a target of missiles fired from the Gaza Strip.
She said that in conferring with Palestinian and Israeli officials, as well as affected Palestinians and humanitarian organizations, she had been struck by the fact that everyone she spoke with — both Palestinian and Israeli — wanted the same objective: the right to live normal lives in security and dignity. However, her first-hand experience in the West Bank and Sderot had left her deeply disturbed, she said, stressing: “It is clear that civilians are bearing the brunt of the ongoing conflict and occupation.”
In the West Bank, she continued, Palestinians were extremely frustrated by restrictions on movement and building that stifled economic activity, leaving thousands dependent on aid. Whether there was a humanitarian crisis in the territory depended on how such a crisis was defined, she said in response to a question. There clearly was economic development in some areas, but there were pockets where people lacked basic services, she said, noting that Palestinians also struggled to gain access to specialized medical facilities in Jerusalem.
Citing her visit to a one-room Area C schoolhouse scheduled for demolition because the local community had been unable to obtain a building permit in order to improve it, Ms. Amos said that was just one way in which children’s well-being was being undermined. A visit to a protected children’s play centre in Sderot had revealed evidence of the “psychosocial issues” caused by fear of rocket attacks, she said, condemning the indiscriminate use of violence, and saying it must stop.
Ms. Amos said she had agreed not to visit Gaza at the present time, but to return during a later trip. However, in her meetings with Israeli officials, she had raised concerns that the blockade imposed on the enclave had suffocated economic activity and led to a serious decline in conditions. An estimated 1.1 million residents were now dependent on food aid, she noted.
Asked about the Israeli Defense Minister’s response to her calls to ease restrictions, she said that he had spoken of Israel’s legitimate right to security, but in reply to examples she had cited, he had agreed to raise her concerns with the appropriate authorities so as to see whether they could be resolved. She said she had made the point that if the majority of Israelis understood the impact of Government policies, they would realize that it was something with which they themselves would not wish to deal.
In response to other questions on the occupied territories, she said it was impossible to predict the impact of a “hypothetical” declaration of Palestinian statehood on the humanitarian situation. The most critical element was economic development, she reiterated, stressing the importance of seizing any opportunity to try and improve the situation. She added that she did not know whether ongoing discussions on the possibility of people moving through the Rafah crossing had borne fruit.
Regarding the 15 May protests, she said she had raised concerns about the violence and called on all the countries concerned to investigate. On Syria, she said the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had not managed to get a mission into the country to assess people’s needs following violence-related protests. Syrian officials had argued that it was a domestic situation that they had the capacity to deal with, she said, stressing that she would continue to push for access. If the Syrian authorities were concerned about misrepresentation of the situation, an assessment would allow truth to come out, she pointed out. She added that she had no updates on Bahrain following the concerns she had raised some weeks ago about the violence in that country, and her report to the Security Council on protection of civilians.
On humanitarian aid to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ms. Amos said that, due to political reasons, there were difficulties in raising funds to help the 6.1 million people in the country recently assessed to be suffering from food insecurity. Emphasizing that humanitarian aid only concerned people’s needs and not political issues, she said she was looking at the possibility of further using the Central Emergency Response Fund, which had been the largest provider of funds to that country in the last few years. However, the Fund would only provide a fraction of what was required, she cautioned.
Concerning Sudan’s Abyei Area, she said the Humanitarian Coordinator for the region had gone in with a team today and she was awaiting his report. There were accounts of substantial movements of people fleeing the area, she added. As for Darfur, difficulties continued in respect of continuous access to certain areas, she said, adding that reports of spreading diseases could be the result of interrupted vaccination campaigns.
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