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WFP Welcomes Israel's 'Humanitarian Recess' in Gaza

The U.N. World Food Program says Israel's decision to hold its fire for three hours a day in Gaza City will help ease the plight of the conflict-stricken population. The WFP says more is needed

The World Food Program says the three-hour daily pause in military air strikes will provide a bit of relief to the beleaguered population of Gaza, but, it is not enough.

In a telephone interview from Jerusalem, WFP Spokesman, Robin Lodge, tells VOA, the so-called humanitarian recess is only a first step.

"We are looking for a longer cease fire and indeed a permanent cease fire period, which we see as the only way we can possibly, actually resume full-scale humanitarian support for the people of Gaza," said Lodge. "That is not just WFP. But, that is the whole humanitarian community."

International pressure has been building up on Israel to agree to a cease-fire amid warnings of a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Israel says the three-hour daily bombing respite will allow the residents of Gaza City to acquire basic necessities and to seek aid from international organizations.

The WFP has a regular caseload of 265,000 non-refugee Palestinians in Gaza. Since Israel began its military offensive on December 27, the number of beneficiaries has increased by 50,000.

Lodge says the WFP has enough food stocks in Gaza City to last several weeks. But he notes a lot of the food is kept in government warehouses and, for security reasons, it is difficult to access it.

He describes the situation in Gaza as very bleak.

"There is very little food commercially available," he said. "Very few stores have any food. There is a widespread shortage of cash so commercial activities have virtually ground to a halt. As far as the bakeries are concerned, they are no longer getting supplied with flour from the mills because the mills have run out of wheat. At present, the latest idea is that only 14 out of 47 bakeries in Gaza are operating and they are operating at very reduced capacity. We are trying to help out by delivering flour to bakeries."

Israel says the humanitarian recess will enable about 80 trucks carrying medicine, medical supplies, basic food and fuel to pass into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing.

The World Food Program is calling for all crossing points to be reopened as soon as possible. It says it is vital that the Karni crossing be opened. It says Karni has a conveyor belt for loading and unloading food, which would avoid breaks in its supply line.

The agency also is appealing to international donors to plug the $73 million shortfall it is running for its Gaza humanitarian operations.