UN suspends Gaza construction amid Israeli closure
JERUSALEM, July 9 (Reuters) The United Nations suspended today all of its construction projects, worth some 93 million dollars, in the Gaza Strip, citing a concrete shortage it said was caused by Israeli closures of a border crossing.
Israel largely closed off the Karni terminal, the main commercial crossing to and from Gaza, soon after Hamas Islamists took over the territory by force last month following weeks of fighting against loyalists of President Mahmoud Abbas.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) funds scores of building projects in the largely impoverished Gaza Strip. It buys its materials from Israeli housing companies and hires mostly Palestinian contractors.
''Some 93 million dollars worth of projects are on hold because cement and other building supplies have run out,'' said John Ging, UNRWA's director in Gaza, citing the crossing closure.
Christopher Gunness, an UNRWA spokesman, said some concrete was transferred from Israel to Gaza in recent weeks but it was not enough. The suspension of the projects would affect thousands of Palestinians, he and Ging said.
Shlomo Dror, a spokesman for Israel's liaison office with the Palestinian territories, said concrete was transferred from the Jewish state to Gaza a week ago and more would be sent in the near future following requests by UNWRA officials.
''Concrete is harder to bring in, technically,'' he said. ''It requires more manpower and it is more important to us now to allow humanitarian aid.'' Israel has in recent weeks permitted some food and medical supplies to go through the crossing and others that it controls on its border with Gaza. However, it often closes its terminals amid daily rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian militants.
''We've always said the measures of the past couple of weeks are as great as they go, but they are not keeping pace with the demand,'' Ging said. ''You will see a continuous decline in the humanitarian situation in Gaza until the borders are opened.'' Gunness said there was ''a risk of a public health disaster'' if the facilities UNRWA had been funding were not maintained.
Israel has maintained control of the crossings on the Gaza frontier, under interim peace deals with the Palestinians, since it pulled out of the territory in 2005.
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