1 June 2010

Elena Ponomareva-Piquier, Chief of the Press and Public Relations Sections of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, chaired the briefing which was also attended by Spokespersons for and representatives of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the World Health Organization, the International Trade Center, the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Children's Fund, the International Organization for Migration, the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization.

Raid on Gaza Aid Flotilla

Ms. Ponomareva-Piquier said that United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, had expressed his shock yesterday at the deadly military interception on boats loaded with relief supplies headed for Gaza, calling on Israel to fully explain its actions.

“I condemn this violence”, Mr. Ban has said from Kampala, Uganda, where he was presiding over the first review conference of the International Criminal Court, said Ms. Ponomareva-Piquier. “It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place,” he has said, adding “I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation.”

The full declaration of the Secretary-General has been sent out yesterday and Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, has also issued a press release on the same subject yesterday, said Ms. Ponomareva-Piquier.

Matthias Burchard, Head, Representative Office of Geneva and Liaison Office Brussels, United Nations Relief and Works Agency said that the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, had also stated during his press conference in Kampala, Uganda, that he had instructed his Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency Commissioner-General, Filippo Grandi, to actively engage on the ground in urging restraint and ensuring that no further harm was done and to coordinate with all relevant parties.

Over the last 24 hours, both had been actively engaged with all parties on the ground to try to calm the situation and called for restraint, said Mr. Burchard. They had also issued a joint statement yesterday in which they had expressed their shock by the reports of killings and injuries of people onboard boats carrying supplies for Gaza, apparently in international waters. They also condemned the violence and called for it to stop and said that they were in contact with the Israeli authorities to express their deep concern and to seek a full explanation.

Mr. Burchard said that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency was profoundly shocked by these events and that it was extending its condolences to the families of those that were killed and wished a speedy recovery to all those who had been injured.

Turning to the general situation in Gaza, Mr. Burchard said that the situation had not improved at all since Operation Cast Lead in 2009. Last week, the amount of goods that had been able to enter Gaza had been only 19 per cent of the average numbers of truckloads entering each week to Gaza in June 2007.

It was important to keep in mind that it was not an issue of arguing whether this was a humanitarian crisis or not, said Mr. Burchard. Some were stating that there was no such crisis, but there was ample evidence pointing towards it stemming from several evaluations, visits from delegations and United Nations reports on the situation in Gaza.

Answering to a journalist’s asking for a breakdown of the trucks that had been able to enter Gaza lately, Mr. Burchard said that it would be misleading to look at trucks independently. Last week, two truckloads of cement had been allowed to enter Gaza to finish United Nations housing projects, which had been frozen since 2007. But this represented about 25 tons of cement coming in, while the need was for 1 million tons. Further, shoes and clothes did not enter Gaza last week but 540 trucks carrying food, hygiene and agriculture products had been able to enter. However, the overall fact was that access to Gaza was severely restricted and only confined to basic humanitarian goods.

Answering another question on what were the reasons that were being given by Israeli authorities for not letting basic essentials into Gaza, Mr. Burchard answered that the Israeli authorities never ever gave any reason for not letting trucks enter into Gaza.

Elisabeth Byrs of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, had also issued a statement on this event. The statement was available in the press room.

Claire Kaplun of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the Human Rights Council had decided this morning to hold this afternoon an urgent debate on the raid. The outcome of the debate would probably be a resolution. A draft resolution has been tabled this morning by Pakistan, on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, Sudan, on behalf of the Arab Group and by Palestine.

Paul Garwood of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that WHO renewed its calls for greater access to Gaza for necessary medical supplies, medicines, spare parts and particularly staff needed for training health professionals in Gaza, as well as repairing faulty equipment.

There were currently hundreds of items of equipment that have been waiting to get into Gaza for up to a year now, procured either by WHO or other partner organizations, said Mr. Garwood. These items included X-rays, CT Scanners, laboratory equipment and other support items for basic elements, such as elevators for hospitals. It was impossible to maintain a safe and effective healthcare system under the conditions of siege that had been in place now since June 2007.

It was not only enough to insure that supplies, such as drugs and consumables, were able to enter the Gaza Strip. Medical equipment and spare parts had to be available and be properly maintained, said Mr. Garwood. Several medical professionals were also unable to leave the Strip because they did not get the permissions to undertake training outside of Gaza.

Continuing disruptions to power, water and sanitation services were further greatly impacting on the delivery of healthcare and consequent health conditions of Gazans, added Mr. Garwood.