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UN blasts Israel’s blockade over 45% Gaza jobless rate

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek (R) plays with children during his visit to the Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children in

Source : Agencies

JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH : 15 Jun 2011

• 'Hamas govt flourishes while restrictions hit the poor'
• Wages fall, jobless rate up since Israel blockade began
• Egyptian border opening slightly relaxes tension
• High unemployment rate ups pressure on UNRWA

The Gaza Strip enters its fifth year of a full Israeli blockade by land, air and sea on Tuesday with unemployment at 45.2 percent, one of the highest rates in the world, a UN aid agency report said.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) found that by the second half of 2010, real wages had fallen 34.5 percent since the first half of 2006, when sanctions were imposed by Israel after Hamas won a Palestinian legislative election.

The UN says the full-on blockade began a year later. “These are disturbing trends,” said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, “and the refugees, who make up two-thirds of Gaza's 1.5 million population, were the worst hit.”

Densely populated Gaza has a population of more than 1.5 million, mostly spread along the 40 km coast of the Mediterranean enclave between Israel and Egypt. “It is hard to understand the logic of a man-made policy which deliberately impoverishes so many and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution,” Gunness said. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas from moving weapons, money and people in and out of Gaza, but Gunness said the blockade did not appear to have weakened Hamas.

“Our research indicates that since 2007, Hamas has been able to increase public employment by about one fifth,” he said, noting that private sector jobs have disappeared in the same period.

“If the aim of the blockade policy was to weaken the Hamas administration, the public employment numbers suggest this has failed,” Gunness added. “But it has certainly been highly successful in punishing some of the poorest of the poor in the Middle East region.” Gunness said the high unemployment rates also put increasing pressure on UNRWA, which helps 1.1 million people in Gaza. The agency said the number of “abject poor” it was assisting, those earning less than $1.60 a day, had tripled since the blockade was imposed to 300,000 people. UNRWA provides food staples and schools for Gaza's refugee population. The enclave has no airport or seaport for freight.

Gaza's pressure cooker atmosphere has been relieved since the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak this year and a change in policy by Cairo, a party to the blockade with Israel, which now opens the southern border crossing at Rafah daily for civilian traffic, though not for trade.

But UNRWA reports that Gaza's working-age population (those over 15) is estimated to have grown by 2 percent in the second half of 2010 from the first half, increasing the demand for jobs that do not exist in its broken economy.

Meanwhile, a senior Palestinian official said on Tuesday that US Middle East envoy David Hale would visit the Palestinian territories and Israel in order to revive the stalled peace process. Yasser Abd Rabbo, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee, told the Voice of Palestine Radio that Hale “will arrive here in the coming days to try to revive the peace process in accordance with US President Barack Obama’s speech.”

Hale’s visit to the region is the first after his appointment in March after the resignation of former envoy George Mitchell. Rabbo said Hale would explain to the Palestinian leadership Obama’s vision for the resumption of the negotiations to achieve peace in the region.

Rabbo said that the leadership “does not know the US position clearly.”

 

— With input from Mohammed Mar’i

 

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