IRISHMAN and UN relief chief John Ging yesterday praised Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin for his “political courage” in visiting Gaza as €12 million in Irish aid was confirmed for Palestinian refugees.
Minister Martin said Israel’s blockade of Gaza was “choking” Palestinians and fuelling a black economy which was strengthening militant rulers Hamas.
During his first visit to the territory, Mr Martin travelled the breadth of the enclosed enclave, visiting schools, areas destroyed by Israeli military, as well as aid projects.
Mr Ging with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency welcomed the minister, but the aid chief stressed the frustration of the Palestinians in not being able to access some $4.5 billion (€3.3bn) pledged by the international community after Israel’s crippling military offensive last year.
“That’s four and a half billion dollars to relieve four and a half billion dollars of misery and not one dollar has actually come to Gaza for recovery or reconstruction,” he said.
During his brief visit, Mr Martin visited one UN school made from aid containers, because of the absence of building materials.
Frustrated business leaders in Gaza city also spoke of the complete collapse of the territory’s economy.
A black economy fuelled by smuggling goods through tunnels from Egypt was empowering Hamas, Mr Martin was told.
Palestinian Trade Centre manager Ghaidaa Alameer said 1,185 businesses were destroyed or had closed since Israel’s Operation Cast Lead.
Unemployment was at 50%, she said, adding: “People are sitting at home doing nothing which has its effects on social lives and mindsets. They used to export furniture, textiles and cash crops... now all this is lost. Nothing will solve this, unless we open the borders.”
The World Food Programme’s Ali Abukumail told the minister: “The collective punishment over the last year to push out the government... the policy of the siege is not working, the local government [Hamas] is becoming more powerful.”
The absence of water treatment facilities meant up to 80,000 litres a day of untreated water and sewage was being pumped into the sea, he said.
The minister was refused entry by Israel to Gaza last year and only managed to gain entry this time with the help of Egypt. He called for EU ministers to be facilitated in visiting Gaza and said Ireland was committed to giving €12m in aid to UNRWA’s Palestinian fund over the next three years.
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