by Xinhua Staff
GAZA, June 24 (Xinhua) -- Tuesday marks the eighth year of a rigid Israeli blockade against the Gaza Strip that led to a sharp economic decline, as well as high levels of poverty and unemployment, and many observers have been calling for an end of the "collective punishment."
The blockade is the longest ever imposed on a territory in modern history, Robert Turner, operational director of the UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian refugees, told reporters in Gaza.
Israel has begun to impose a tight blockade on the coastal enclave, considering it a hostile entity after the Islamist Hamas movement violently seized control of the territory in June 2007.
"The Israeli blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip represents a collective punishment of the population," Turner said, and urged Israel to end the blockade so as to allow free movement of goods and people.
Under international pressure, Israel has recently eased the blockade allowing more products to flow in and out of Gaza, but it still has restricted the entrance of raw materials for constructions and personal movement.
HIGH POVERTY, JOBLESS RATES
Over the years, the economy in Gaza has been deteriorating. Even the new unity government, which was a result of an agreement reached between Fatah and Hamas, failed to give the slack economy a real boost.
The Gaza-based Popular Committee said on Tuesday in a press statement that years of Israeli blockade destroyed the economy in Gaza, adding that "despite the formation of the unity government, nothing has improved."
"Seventy percent of the Gaza's 1.8 million populations are living under the poverty line, and the daily income of the majority of Gaza people is below two U.S. dollars," said the statement, adding that "more than a million people live on foreign aid and unemployment rate climbed to 50 percent."
The committee slammed Israel for banning the entrance of construction materials into Gaza, saying many projects had completely stopped, causing a loss of some 500 million dollars.
Maher Taba'a, an official with the Gaza Chamber of Commerce, told Xinhua that despite the formation of the unity government, the siege is still imposed on the enclave, and the basic materials needed to help promote the stagnant economy are still banned by Israel.
He also noted things Israel allows in the enclave since it eased the blockade in 2010 are no more than such consuming materials as food, clothes, along with limited amount of fuel.
LACK OF BASIC NEEDS
Ashraf al-Qedra, Gaza's emergency service spokesman said in a press statement that the Ministry of Health in Gaza is suffering from the highest ever shortage of medicine and medical equipment since the Israeli siege began.
"There is a 30 percent shortage of basic medicine used for surgeries. More than 55 percent of medicine had been consumed and the rest will be running out soon," said al-Qedra.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority announced that Gaza's only power plant will shut down on Tuesday to due to the lack of fuel.
Deputy chairman of the authority, Fathi Sheikh Khalil, told Xinhua that the power plant would stop working after a six-month Qatari fuel grant ran out last week.
"We've made extensive contact with concerned parties to solve the problem, but we have not reached a solution yet," he said.
The coastal strip needs around 380 megawatts of power to overcome the crisis yet Gaza's power plant only meets around one third of the energy needed. The remaining electricity supplies come directly from Israel and Egypt.