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Renewed tension disrupts construction projects in Gaza Strip

GAZA – More than 20 vital United Nations construction projects for schools and housing in Gaza are stalled, and social and economic conditions are worsening due to the closure of crossings with Israel as clashes have increased, the top UN envoy for the Middle East warned Wednesday.

“I sincerely hope that the Israeli authorities will fully adhere to their commitment to reopen Gaza for construction materials for UN projects”, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry said after a visit to Gaza, where a ceasefire ending eight days of fierce fighting between Israel and Gaza’s ruling Hamas in 2012 has started to fray with renewed rocket attacks against Israel and Israeli reprisals.

“I am worried we are seeing more and more signs that the understanding on a ceasefire reached in November 2012 is eroding in both of its main requirements – the end of all hostilities and the opening of the crossings for people and goods.

“During the past two months, we have seen more rockets being fired at Israel, border incidents, and Israeli retaliatory operations causing death or injury to civilians. The United Nations condemns the rise in violence, and all parties must act in accordance with international law.”

In December, Israel agreed to resume the transfer of construction materials for UN projects in Gaza, where the world body is working on a “critical” $500-million package to build schools, social housing, and water and sanitation facilities, but clashes with Israel have since increased and the work has been stalled since November.

Mr. Serry stressed that imports of construction materials have dramatically decreased, lamenting the fact that the closure by Egypt of illegal tunnels beneath its border with Gaza has not been turned into an opportunity to increase the entry of such materials through legal crossings.

He welcomed the recent decision to allow in 1,000 tons of cement and other materials for flood relief, but stressed that imports of construction material for the private sector through legal crossings remain essential for Gaza’s economy while ensuring that it is not be diverted from its intended peaceful purposes. He also voiced the hope that the Rafah crossing with Egypt would soon resume normal operations.

Mr. Serry visited the Gaza City paediatric hospital, which has been affected by frequent power cuts due to the precarious energy situation in the Strip. “I was heartened to see that this children’s hospital is one of the facilities that benefit from the fuel emergency safety net created by the United Nations through the generous contributions of Turkey and the Islamic Development Bank, which is securing continuity of vital services,” he said.

“However, this is but a stop-gap measure, and more must be done to address Gaza’s chronic energy problems. Energy is the basis for everything – whether desalination, private sector growth, or health services. Short-term solutions, such as the generous donation of Qatar to the Gaza power plant, remain essential.

“But we must also look to the medium term,” he added, voicing UN support for the Palestinian Authority’s request to establish a power line from Israel into Gaza for better and more cost-efficient access to energy.

“Ultimately, only the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank under the legitimate Palestinian Authority, based on the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) commitments, can pave the way to a durable solution for Gaza, as part of political progress towards peace.”

The Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, controls the West Bank from its headquarters in Ramallah and endorses the PLO commitments to seek peace with Israel based on the existence of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side within secure borders.

Hamas, which ousted Fatah from Gaza in fighting in 2007, does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. Israel has severely restricted the entry of goods and materials into the Strip since Hamas seized control.

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