UN Humanitarian chief notes no real progress in rebuilding Gaza
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The UN's humanitarian relief coordinator, John Holmes, is visiting Gaza, to see what progress has been made in rebuilding the territory more than one year after the end of Israel's attack Operation Cast Lead. He told UN Radio's Reem Abaza that there has only been some cleanup of rubble, and cosmetic improvements.
Holmes: In real terms, the progress has been extremely limited, because of course there's been no possibility of most construction materials entering Gaza since the end of that military operation, so reconstruction and redevelopment has hardly been able to start. So even though some of the local population is showing remarkable ingenuity in trying to recycle rubble, for example into breeze blocks, which then can be used to start some kind of reconstruction, really very little progress has been made because of the continuing blockade and that's the biggest problem that people face in Gaza.
Abaza: How about the humanitarian situation of the people you met in Gaza?
Holmes: I think the situation remains extremely difficult. Of course, there's a certain minimum amount of goods come in from Israel across the crossing point in terms of food and medical supplies, so people are not in danger of starving or anything of that kind, and of course there's also quite a lot of goods coming in through the illegal tunnel system from Egypt, but in terms of really improvement in quality of life, the ability to live a normal, dignified life, the ability to start reconstructing Gaza properly, just to restart livelihoods, to create proper jobs, to let the private sector work properly, there's been virtually no progress and that's what's so worrying and that's why it's so urgent to put an end to the blockade, to open the crossing points properly, to let Gaza and the people in Gaza breathe if you like.
Abaza: You raised this issue with the Israeli officials during your visit. What did they tell you exactly?
Holmes: Well, what I heard from the Israelis was a willingness to try to improve life of the Gazans, to maybe start to allow some more materials in for specific projects and, of course, the UN has been making a number of projects to the Israeli authorities in the areas of water and sanitation. But so far, we're seeing very little progress. There have been some lorry loads and glass allowed in and that's been helpful to replace windows broken during the military operation, but there's a huge distance to go and what we really need to see is not small concessions here or there or some improvements in limited amounts of construction materials, we need to see a much wider opening of the crossing points in order to allow people to start to live some kind of dignified and normal life. That's what's so urgently needed.
Abaza: You expressed your concern regarding the situation in Jerusalem and the Area C. Tell us more about what did you see in light of the recent tension also in the area.
Holmes: Well, I think what's going on there on the West Bank and obviously in east Jerusalem as well is that there's a continuing series of restrictions on movements and again on normal life for many Palestinians, which is not helping the process, not helping people to live the kind of normal lives that they want to lead. Now, ultimately, the best solution to all this is to end of the occupation and the creation of a genuine Palestinian state as part of the peace settlement, that's what everybody wants to see, but in the meantime, it's the continuing settlement activity, it's the existence of the barrier and the problem that creates for the people, who live near it or can't get across it, have access to their land, it's continuing evictions and demolition of houses in east Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank and the inability to develop and construct in Area C, for example, which restricts the growth of some of the towns on the West Bank and so you know, we are in the process of following that and documenting that and we're appealing to the Israeli government to be as flexible as possible and to again, allow Palestinian populations in the area to develop their economy, to have access to basic services, to have access to their land and to live as normal life as they can pending the proper settlement of the whole process, which would end the occupation and lead to the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution.
Abaza: What do you hope to achieve from this visit?
Holmes: What I would like to see is progress in some of the areas I talked about particularly the opening of the crossing into the Gaza. I am not sure that's going to happen frankly, so any progress they can make will be helpful but in the meantime I think my presence can help to reassure people that they have not been abandoned, that we haven't lost interest in what's happening in Gaza or the West Bank, to shine a light on some of these continuing problems and to maintain pressure from the international community to make progress as fast as we possibly can, because as I say it's urgent the need of creating normality, and creating the conditions where a peace process has a realistic chance of success.
UN Humanitarian Coordinator John Holmes speaking to Reem Abaza.