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United Nations Welcomes Israel's Opening of Gaza to Aid

United Nations aid agencies welcome the recent easing of the total blockage of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli Defense Forces. The agencies say this has averted a possible humanitarian catastrophe, for now.

The U.N. aid agencies say there are very few relief supplies in the Gaza Strip. They say it will take time to replenish stocks of food, water, fuel and other goods to allow some kind of normal life to resume. They are appealing to Israel to continue to allow essential items to cross freely into Gaza.

A spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, Matthias Burchard, says fuel and some basic foodstuffs are getting through. But, there is a huge backlog. He says eight thousand tons of food has been waiting in containers in the Israeli port of Ashdod since June 4th when the border was sealed.

He says UNRWA provides nearly 900,000 people in Gaza with food and assists another half million Palestinians in the West Bank.

Last week, Israel knocked out Gaza's main electricity power station. Burchard says it is very hot in Gaza and there is particular concern that people are not able to get enough water. "Access to water remains sporadic throughout the strip, which is also due to still the fuel getting in, generators and pumps working on fuel not having received the necessary quantities. The problem is especially severe in all the apartments where a lot of Palestinians live. High rise buildings where there is no electricity to pump the water up into the higher floors. Tanker water and bottled water is available, but the people do not have funds to buy it," he said.

Burchard says chlorine supplies for purifying water will run out in 15 days. He says electricity supplies remain erratic and sewage on the streets could create a health crisis.

The World Health Organization says Gaza has a two-month supply of essential drugs on hand for public health clinics and a one-month supply for hospitals. It says one of the main concerns is the lack of medicine to care for patients with chronic diseases.

The U.N. Children's Fund says it has not yet seen any increase in malnutrition rates among children. But, a UNICEF spokesman, Damien Personnaz, says psychological problems are growing. "According to our staff which is in Gaza… the rate of bed-wetting has been increased by15 to 20 percent among the children less than six years old. That means the fear and the fact that they cannot sleep at night because of the sonic booms are directing back on the children. There is a high level of fear among children and parents," he said.

Personnaz says UNICEF has opened 15 new counseling centers to help parents and their children. But, he says few people have been coming because they are afraid to move out of their homes.