UNRWA Demands Lifting of Gaza Blockade

A UN agency aiding Palestinian refugees has demanded that the border restrictions on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip be lifted, warning that "a man-made homelessness crisis" is unfolding in the besieged enclave.

The demand echoes assertions by Gaza militants who renewed the fighting yesterday, saying their key demands, including the lifting of blockade of Gaza, were not met.

"We cannot rebuild it with our hands tied behind our backs. The blockade must end," United Nations Relief and Works Agency said.

The blockade of Gaza by Israel, and also enforced by Egypt, tightly controls movement of goods and people into the impoverished territory of 1.8 million people.

"The last seven years have shown that reconstruction under blockade is unsustainable. Look where the blockade led; to war and industrial scale destruction. Huge swathes of Gaza have been levelled," UNRWA said.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians have returned to UNRWA's facilities since yesterday to take refuge from Israeli airstrikes after the collapse of a 72-hour ceasefire.

"Gaza's catastrophic human displacement crisis is morphing into a housing crisis of massive proportions with an early estimate that 65,000 have had their homes destroyed", UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement.

"That is likely to rise. A man-made homelessness crisis on an epic scale is unfolding," he said.

As per UNRWA's estimates, 70 per cent of those affected by the housing crisis are refugees whose responsibility lie with the agency.

It will have to cater to a broad range of services to the refugees that includes -- reconstruction, repairs, rental subsidies while homes are rebuilt, health including psycho-social support, food, cash and education.

"This is an urgent priority. Without it people simply cannot go home," the agency said.

In view of the massive challenges, UNRWA has demanded that the blockade of Gaza be lifted.

Israel tightened curbs on the movement of people and goods at the Gaza border in 2007 after Hamas wrested control of the enclave.

Israel also maintains a naval blockade of Gaza in a declared bid to prevent arms from reaching the militants.

"We are beyond the realm of humanitarian action alone. All those directly and indirectly responsible for the carnage and destruction must engage," UNRWA added.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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