UN appeals for 462 million dollars for West Bank, Gaza

UN aid agencies asked international donors Wednesday for 462 million dollars to help fund their activities in Gaza and the West Bank in 2009, saying most of the money was needed for emergency food and cash assistance to Palestinians, reported dpa.

Conditions in Gaza have worsened over the past three weeks amid a breakdown of a five-month-old ceasefire, with Israel slapping a near- total closure on the strip in response to renewed rocket fire.

Israel however allowed 70 tons of gas into Gaza as well as 10 trucks carrying aid and basic supplies Wednesday, following a reduction in rocket attacks over nearly one week.

Militants from Gaza have fired nearly 160 rockets and mortar shells at Israel over the past three weeks, responding to a November 4 clash between Israeli soldiers and Hamas militants which left six Palestinians dead.

But over the last week, the rocket fire has dropped to one a day, with one landing also near the southern Gaza border crossing of Kissufim Wednesday and another near a kibbutz (agricultural commune) Tuesday, a military spokeswoman said.

Both Hamas, the radical Islamic movement ruling Gaza, and Israel have said they are interested in restoring the truce, brokered by Egypt on June 19, though each have also threatened with harsh responses if the other side did not abide by it.

Since November 4, Israel has opened its borders only twice to two convoys of 33 and 45 trucks of basic humanitarian supplies and limited amounts of industrial diesel for Gaza's power plant, in addition to Wednesday's new shipment.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator Maxwell Gaylard accused Israel of "a massive assault on the human rights of the people living in Gaza."

Speaking at a news conference in Jerusalem at which the UN launched its appeal for 462 million dollars for its activities in both Gaza and the West Bank for 2009, he said many of its aid agencies were reduced to giving emergency food and cash assistance.

"We would prefer doing development work, but there is a humanitarian imperative," he said.

More than half the money, around 274 million dollars, is meant for UNWRA, the UN agency which assists Palestinians living in the refugee camps it runs throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

UNWRA's deputy commissioner general, Filippo Grandi, said that since Israel re-tightened its closure of Gaza three weeks ago, his organization was able to transport only 16 trucks with humanitarian aid into the Strip. The minimum to cover humanitarian needs was 15 trucks a day, he said.

"We hope the period of closure won't be very long, as we heard from some Israeli officials. We respect Israeli security concerns and condemn rocket attacks, but the unpredictability of the Israeli blockade is having very negative consequences on our operability,"

A Libyan ship with humanitarian aid meanwhile set sail to Gaza on Wednesday, a Palestinian official said.

Jamal al-Khodary, the head of the Popular Committee against the Siege on Gaza, said the ship set out on its voyage from the port city of Zuwarah with 3,000 tons of medical supplies and humanitarian aid on board.

"The aid is donated by the Libyan state and its people," al- Khodary told reporters in Gaza, adding the voyage was one of a series of Arab attempts to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza.

Earlier this year, several vessels with foreign pro-Palestinian activists on board, succeeded in docking at Gaza's seaport as Israel stopped short of implementing threats to intercept them. Those journeys were organized the US-based Free Gaza movement.

Kuwaiti and Muslim legislators also plan to access Gaza via the sea.

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