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UN aid to Palestine halves for 2006

UN agency aiding Palestinians halves emergency appeal for 2006 from 2005 sum

Citing recent agreements on freedom of movement and other developments, the main United Nations agency helping Palestinian refugees has asked for $95.5 million in its annual emergency appeal, around half of last years request, to allow it to carry out crucial relief operations for 1.6 million people in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

“Hope for progress in the peace process has been rekindled with Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in August, but the situation remains extremely fragile, requiring a great deal of nurturing by all parties involved,” Karen Koning AbuZayd, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), told a meeting of donor representatives earlier this week.

“UNRWA is greatly relieved to enjoy unrestricted internal access throughout Gaza following the disengagement,” she added, saying that the recent agreement reached by the parties concerning entry points to Gaza and its link with the West Bank, if fully implemented, will help revive Gaza’s shattered economy and improve movement of the Agency’s staff and its ability to import humanitarian goods.

She stressed, however, that other decisive measures need to be taken to demonstrate the benefits of disengagement to Palestinians, and urged increased international support for the development and humanitarian interventions she said would be critical in the immediate, near and medium-term for socio-economic recovery.

“Optimism should not blind us to the need to address the rampant poverty afflicting Gaza and the West Bank after five years of conflict and military closures,” she said.

She noted that UNRWA has cooperated with the diplomatic Quartet’s Special Envoy for Disengagement, James Wolfensohn, developing Gaza-focused rapid action plans based on the Agency’s expertise in job creation, microfinance and reconstruction of demolished shelters. Some donors have pledged support in those areas, but she said UNRWA awaits further funding to carry out these activities.

The tone of this year’s appeal contrasted sharply with last year’s when UNRWA said 2004 had seen the worst levels of destruction of the uprising, as Israel employed “drastic” measures against Palestinian militants firing rockets from Gaza and other security threats.

The Emergency Appeal for 2006 of $95,485,216 will cover programmes in the areas of nutrition, cash assistance, mobile health clinics and the hiring of unemployed persons and extra support staff.

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