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    UN Launches $613 Million Appeal for Gaza

    The United Nations is appealing for $613 million to help tens of thousands of people in Gaza recover from the three-week Israeli military offensive in the Palestinian territory. The money will provide life-saving assistance over the next six to nine months. The U.N. appeal was launched at the annual World Economic Forum in the Swiss alpine village of Davos.

    U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is the first world leader to enter Gaza since Israel imposed a blockade on the Palestinian territory in June 2007. He describes his distress at what he saw.

    The U.N. chief says the level of destruction in Gaza is huge and the needs are massive.  He says the civilian population suffered greatly during Israel's three-week military operation.

    "More than one-third of the 6,600 dead and injured were children and women," said Ban. "As a father of three, I was especially troubled by their suffering and the psychological trauma that so many families went through. Help is indeed needed urgently. Food, clean water, shelter, medicine, the restoration of basic services. Everywhere I went, I saw the evidence of critical humanitarian needs." 

    Ban says the population was already vulnerable because of so many months of severely restricted supplies.  He says people have lost their families, they have lost their homes, belongings and livelihoods.  He says schools, clinics, factories and businesses have been destroyed. 

    He urges Israel to open all five crossing points into Gaza so crucial humanitarian supplies are able to get into Gaza in a free and timely manner. 

    The secretary-general's appeal is seconded by the U.N.'s Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes.  He says there must be a sustained opening of all the important crossings into Gaza.

    "We do not want to go back to the position we had before the fighting started where effectively normal economic and other life in Gaza was being strangled by the restriction of goods and movement," said Holmes. "For example, no construction materials were able to get through or key equipment or spare parts.  Clearly, we understand Israel's security concerns, but we believe they can be addressed without sacrificing the basic needs of the population." 

    Holmes says work to rehabilitate the lives of people in Gaza must start immediately.  He says about $92 million of the aid will be delivered in the form of either cash for work or cash assistance.

    The announcement came amid fears of a collapse of unilateral ceasefires by Israel and the Hamas militant group. This week, two rockets have been fired at Israel, while Israeli air strikes hit southern Gaza. 


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