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Gaza situation desperate and unacceptable

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GAZA, (PIC)– United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes on Wednesday slammed the continued Israeli closure of the Gaza border-crossings and  described the situation as “desperate” and “unacceptable.”

No fuel, humanitarian supplies or commercial commodities were allowed into Gaza on Wednesday, according to the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO).

Mr. Holmes – who is also Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs – told journalists in Geneva that the closure was seen as collective punishment. Half the population of Gaza was under 15 and were being held hostage by the situation.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Tuesday to urge him to facilitate the freer movement of urgently needed humanitarian supplies and of UN personnel into Gaza. Mr. Olmert denounced the continuing rocket fire into Israel from Gaza, although he agreed to look seriously into the urgent matter.

Starting Thursday, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) had to suspend cash assistance to some 98,000 of the poorest people in Gaza due to the lack of Israeli shekel bank notes in Gaza banks.

The agency also warned that it is facing “a grave and imminent crisis” and must receive additional pledges in the first quarter of 2009 if it is to continue assisting the 4.6 million people in its five field operations.

UNRWA Commissioner General Karen AbuZayd told donors, host governments and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners that according to present projections its core services will suffer a deficit of more than $87 million by then, leading to an overall shortfall of $160 million when combined with unfunded projects on hold from previous years.

“This will bring UNRWA closer to financial crisis than it has ever been,” she said today at the agency’s annual meeting in Amman, Jordan, which heard updates from the directors for the five field operations – Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.