Alerting humanitarians to emergencies
INTERVIEW-UN says key food stocks dwindling in Gaza
01 Mar 2006 07:44:38 GMT
By Adam Entous
JERUSALEM, March 1 (Reuters) - Stocks of wheat, sugar and cooking oil are dwindling in Gaza and could begin to run out within days unless Israel reopens the strip's main crossing point for goods, U.N. officials said on Wednesday.
David Shearer, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said humanitarian conditions had deteriorated since Hamas's Jan. 25 Palestinian election victory, in part because of Israel's closure of the main crossing into Gaza at Karni and other security measures.
"This is getting to precarious levels," Shearer said in an interview with Reuters.
Israel, which has long viewed the United Nations as pro-Palestinian, said the increase in restrictions was due to an "enhanced terrorist threat" and not a response to the election victory of Hamas Islamic militants.
The army said Israel had offered to reroute supplies to Gaza through another crossing, but the Palestinians declined.
Israel has halted tax revenue transfers to the Palestinian Authority and has asked donor nations to freeze all but humanitarian aid to pressure Hamas to renounce violence, recognise the Jewish state, and abide by interim peace deals.
According to Shearer, sugar stocks will begin to run out in Gaza in as little as two or three days unless Karni is reopened.
Sugar prices have risen by more than 25 percent because of Israel's frequent closure of the crossing point, Shearer said.
Supplies of wheat flour to make bread, Gaza's main staple, will likewise begin to run out in as little as four days unless truckloads of wheat are let in, Shearer said.
Israel ended its 38-year military rule of the Gaza Strip last year, but retains control of all access points for bringing goods in and out of the territory, citing security concerns.
Shortages in Gaza have become so acute that aid programmes are starting to be affected, said Arnold Vercken, the Gaza and West Bank representative for the World Food Programme, which delivers wheat flour to 146,000 Gazans.
"For the time being, we are on hold," Vercken said.
Israel closed Karni for 21 days between Jan. 15 and Feb 5, Shearer's office said in a report issued on Tuesday.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said Karni was closed again on Feb 21 after a mysterious explosion in the area. It has remained closed since then because of "continued security alerts", the spokeswoman said.
Vercken said even though the daily flow of basic commodities into Gaza has stopped, "we're not talking famine" because many households in Gaza have private stocks of wheat flour that could last them a month or longer.
But with dwindling supplies and prices on the rise, poorer Gazans will be hardest hit, he said.
Vercken said wheat mills in Gaza normally try to keep on hand between 26,000 tonnes and 30,000 tonnes of wheat -- two months' supply -- but are now down to their last 1,200 tonnes of wheat.
Palestinians depend on foreign aid totalling more than $1 billion a year. It is unclear how much of that money would be withheld by international donors once Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, forms a government.
Since a Palestinian revolt erupted in 2000, Hamas has masterminded at least 60 suicide bombings against Israelis. But it has largely abided by a truce declared last year.
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