The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is extending an emergency relief program for Palestinians in the West Bank. The ICRC program, which was supposed to end this month, will continue until the end of the year.
The ICRC emergency relief program is helping some 300,000 Palestinians in the West Bank, who are particularly hard hit by the violence and curfew policies of the Israelis.
The Red Cross committee says it began the operation a year ago as an extraordinary measure to address an exceptional situation, created by military operations and severe restrictions of movement.
The Head of ICRC operations in the Middle East, Patrick Vial, says they were supposed to be temporary and short-term measures to help the most vulnerable people.
"Unfortunately, what we see today is that, despite repeated calls and official interventions by the ICRC to the Israeli authorities throughout the year, these restrictions have remained unchanged, and they have transformed what was initially a humanitarian crisis into a systemic breakdown of the economy," he said. "That is a much deeper problem. And, this systemic breakdown is somehow affecting the entire Palestinian population. And, of course, it is hitting very hard the most vulnerable and destitute part of this population."
A study earlier this year in the Palestinian territories shows that up to 60 percent of families in urban areas and 70 percent in the countryside have to live on less than $2 a day.
The Red Cross emergency relief program provides destitute rural families with food and other basic items. In the towns, families receive coupons or vouchers which they can exchange for goods in designated stores. Mr. Vial says beneficiaries receive coupons worth $135 every six weeks.
"What is important to notice is that two thirds of the value of these vouchers, therefore two thirds approximately of the $135, can be exchanged for goods of the beneficiaries' choice," said Patrick Vial. "We feel this element of choice is important, because it preserves the dignity of the recipients, who can choose in those shops what is most essential to them from one month to another."
Mr. Vial says the program also benefits the local economy, because most of the goods exchanged for vouchers either are locally produced or locally packed.