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Conditions For Palestinian Refugees In Gaza Deteriorating

The UN Relief and Works Agency or UNRWA reports conditions for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip are deteriorating because of the Israeli blockade. The UN agency appeals for an end to the blockade and for more international support for the Palestinians.

The UN Relief and Works Agency says conditions for Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip were deplorable before Israel's military incursion into the territory at the end of last year. Since the fighting stopped, it says conditions have become worse.

Israel has maintained a blockade of Gaza for a long time. But, the Director of UNRWA's Health Program, Guido Sabatinelli, says the continued imposition of the blockade now is having more serious consequences for the health and well-being of the people in Gaza.

He says before the three-week war began, UNRWA was able to import 4,000 essential items through the border. Now, he says, only 40 items are allowed.

"So UNRWA cannot repair the health center that were damaged, neither our warehouse. We cannot repair the schools because the building materials are not …permitted to enter. We have difficulties in printing the schoolbooks for children because there is no paper. And, we have in our clinics, we have now a shortage of…the clinical data of the patients," Sabatinelli said.

UNRWA has been caring for Palestinian refugees for the past 60 years. It now assists nearly five million refugees, almost two million of them live in Gaza and the West Bank. The others are spread over Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Sabatinelli says Israel's closure policy is severely undermining the ability of the Palestinians to obtain health services. He says patients are not getting the treatment they need because of increased waiting time and the interruption of routine and regular activities at Health Centers.

He says many pregnant women, children and chronic patients are unable to reach health facilities because of the closures. And, high unemployment and increased poverty mean families have to survive on much less than before.

"Inability for the family to provide adequate food, protein food to the children. So, what we observe is that 30 percent of the children below 36 months are anemic, as well as 50 percent of the pregnant women. That is a good indicator of what is the situation and it is quite worrisome for us," he said.

In addition, Sabatinelli says the cost of everything is going up. As a result, he notes UNRWA's budget of $80 million for its operations this year will be worth 25 percent less.

He warns UNRWA will be forced to cut back on some essential services for 4.7 million Palestinian refugees in the Middle East without more international help.