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Israel needs to keep Gaza borders open to aid UN

Written by: Staff
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GENEVA, July 4 (Reuters) Israel needs to ensure unfettered access for medicines and health workers in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinians will soon run short of clean water and fuel, UN agencies said today.

Mattias Burchard, a spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said an Israeli air strike that knocked out Gaza's main power plant had had a severe impact on the population there.

He told journalists in Geneva that while Palestinians now had access to essential medicines and food aid, there were severe backlogs in deliveries into the territory which has no stockpiles to draw from if border crossings are again closed.

''UNRWA appeals to Israel to continue to allow the much needed essentials for life to enter unfettered. Any renewed blockage will again bring the (Gaza) Strip to the brink of catastrophe,'' Burchard said.

Israel had closed Gaza's borders and staged air attacks as part of an offensive to rescue an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants on June 25. The militants have demanded the Jewish state free prisoners in exchange for the soldier.

International observers fear the crisis -- which Israel's internal security chief has said could last many months -- could spark a Palestinian uprising that would bury any change of a peace agreement for a generation.

The UN Human Rights Council, which wrapped up its first session last week, will convene a special meeting today to discuss conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories.

COMPOUNDED PROBLEMS UN officials said they were negotiating with Israel to ensure humanitarian supplies reach Palestinians affected by the Israeli campaign, which has compounded problems for many already suffering under a foreign aid boycott imposed after the militant group Hamas won elections there.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN health agency, said it was helping Palestinian authorities draw up a list of drugs needed for fast procurement, and was assisting efforts to find fuel to keep life-saving generators running in hospitals.

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said it was important that medicine, ambulances and health workers moved freely in the Gaza Strip.

The International Committee of the Red Cross on Tuesday got a convoy of medical and food aid into Gaza through the Karni crossing, its first since the passage was closed after the Israeli's abduction, spokeswoman Dorothea Krimitsas said.

UNRWA's Burchard said he was concerned about dwindling access to clean water, especially in high-rise buildings where a lack of electricity prevents water being pumped to apartments.

Chlorine supplies for purifying water could run out in 15 days, Burchard said, also raising concerns about disease from raw sewage in the streets where children are playing.

Damien Personnaz, of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said the agency was providing counselling to many Palestinian families who were distressed by recent developments.

''There is a high level of fear among children and parents,'' he said, noting an increase in the incidence of bed-wetting among Palestinian children aged six and under.

REUTERS SHB RK2145

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