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UN Urges Opening of Gaza Crossings


Humanitarian aid deliveries to the Gaza Strip have resumed after last week's halt by the international community following the militant group Hamas' violent takeover. But as VOA's Sean Maroney reports from the U.N. headquarters, there is growing concern about the rising number of people unable to enter or leave the area.

The U.N.'s Middle East envoy Michael Williams says despite international aid returning to Gaza, another potential humanitarian disaster is on the horizon.

"About 3,500 Palestinians - including some who were denied entry into Egypt - are reported to be awaiting re-entry into Gaza through the Rafah crossing," said Michael Williams. "Another 250 people - some of whom are wounded or injured - are waiting at the Erez terminal for permission to cross through Israel towards the West Bank."

He told the U.N. Security Council Wednesday help must go beyond food and medical supplies.

"The situation at Rafah and Erez crossings still awaits resolution and raises increasing concerns about protection, particularly of the children involved," he said.

Israeli officials say they will allow border crossings by Palestinians trapped at Erez who need urgent medical treatment. Israel has also agreed to allow foreign nationals - including Russian and Ukrainian citizens - to leave Gaza through the crossing.

However, Israel is expected to cut off all but basic supplies to Gaza in order to tighten its economic hold on the region. Western officials are also pressing Egypt to secure its border with Gaza to stop smugglers from bringing in weapons and cash to Hamas fighters.

Williams says time is short for the 1.4 million Palestinians living in the region, 60 percent of whom depend for their food on foreign aid.

"Our estimates indicate that commercial stocks of basic food items, such as flour and rice, will begin to run out in three weeks, unless imports are resumed," said Williams. "UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency] and WFP [World Food Program] - the main humanitarian providers in Gaza - have between seven and 10 days worth of food reserves for distribution."

Williams also noted it has been 100 days since BBC journalist Alan Johnston was captured in Gaza. He told the Security Council Hamas officials are working to secure Johnston's release from Palestinian militants threatening to kill him if their demands for a prisoner exchange are not met.

"Hamas militants surrounded the compound of the Doghmush clan on June 18th, where it is believed Mr. Johnston is being held," he said.

Williams told reporters Johnston's continued captivity is unacceptable, especially considering the journalist's work in highlighting the plight of Palestinians in Gaza.

Johnston was the only Western reporter working in the Gaza Strip at the time of his abduction. There has been no word on his condition since the release of an undated video June 1 in which he was shown saying his captors were treating him well.

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