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Gaza Faces ‘Dire Crisis’ – UN Middle East Envoy

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UNITED NATIONS – Administering a strong cautionary message to the international community, the United Nations Middle East envoy Friday said that if urgent measures were not taken to de-escalate the crisis now spiralling out of control in the Gaza Strip, there would be dire consequences both for the Palestinians and Israelis alike.

“In Gaza, we are walking into another crisis with our eyes wide open,” the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a speech at the United Nations Security Council in New York.

The UN’s top Middle East envoy noted that the humanitarian situation had become worse since March, when the Hamas group set up a parallel government institution to run affairs in the enclave, thus creating what he termed as an “intra-Palestinian political tug-of-war.” He urged the parties to show willingness to compromise, implement the intra-Palestinian agreements and end the closures.

The Palestinian population is deeply concerned over the onset of an “unprecedented” energy crisis after the only power plant in the area was shut over a taxation dispute between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which took over the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Combined with downed power lines from Egypt and possible restrictions on the purchase of Israeli electricity, most Palestinians in Gaza receive only about four hours of electricity per day.

If the Palestinian Government implements its decision to cap purchase of energy from Israel, “this decision will further reduce electricity supply by some 30 per cent, plunging its population into a spiral of a humanitarian catastrophe,” Mladenov said.

The envoy recalled that the UN had been warning of this potential crisis for months, and that it was now becoming a reality, as reflected in hospitals postponing elective surgeries, limited drinking water, and soaring food prices.

The power shortage is also preventing sewage from being treated. The equivalent of 40 Olympic-size swimming pools of raw sewage is being dumped into the Mediterranean Sea on a daily basis. It is, as many international environmentalists and other experts are saying, a “recipe for unmitigated disaster”.

But Mladenov described this development as an “environmental disaster for Israel, for Egypt and Gaza is in the making”.

The Special Coordinator also pointed to the ongoing hunger strike by Palestinian detainees protesting against prison conditions in Israeli jails, and expressed concern over the situation. The hunger entered its 40th day on the eve of Ramadan.

“I call for a re-doubling of efforts to end the strike as soon as possible. The crisis must be resolved in line with International Humanitarian Law and Israel’s human rights obligations,” he emphasized, calling for maximum restraint and taking any steps to avoid further escalation.

Among other issues raised, Mladenov noted that while the Lebanese Parliament had not yet reconvened after its adjournment in April, he hoped it would agree to an electoral law before the tenure ends on June 20.

Noting that the worsening living conditions in Gaza and the West Bank can lead to anger and instability, Mladenov urged all sides to work towards a genuine reconciliation.

“If Israelis and Palestinians hope to extract themselves from the immeasurable burden this conflict has wrought, they must be willing to take the painful steps that will ultimately lead to peace,” he said. “Neither side can afford another missed opportunity.”



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