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Brussels, 09 January 2009

Statement by European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel on temporary suspension of movements of UNRWA staff throughout the Gaza Strip

The European Commission condemns in the strongest terms the attacks on UNRWA humanitarian convoys and personnel. These attacks have resulted in UNWRA being forced to temporarily halt its staff movements in the Gaza Strip. This decision by UNWRA primarily affects food distribution across Gaza. Other humanitarian partners are subject to similar and unacceptable incidents and as a consequence are forced to reduce or stop their operations. These activities are crucial in bringing essential assistance to the suffering population of Gaza.

Against the background of repeated attacks on humanitarian aid convoys and staff, we urge immediate compliance with the Security Council resolution of 8 January 2009, which calls for unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance to and throughout Gaza and for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire. In particular we call on the Israeli Government to guarantee the free and secure movement of UNRWA staff and assistance in the Gaza Strip. We hope that such a guarantee will soon allow UNRWA to fully resume its activities in the Gaza Strip which are vital for the civilian population of Gaza.

We will continue to make every effort possible to help the civilian population in the Gaza Strip and prevent this humanitarian tragedy from claiming more lives.

The European Commission is the largest donor to UNRWA with an overall annual regular contribution of €113 million in 2008. This figure does not include the humanitarian assistance provided through ECHO: In 2008, the European Commission provided more than €73 million in humanitarian assistance for victims of the ongoing crisis in the Palestinian Territories of which 56% was for relief activities in the Gaza Strip. In the last two weeks alone, the Commission has provided more than €10 million in additional humanitarian aid in a direct response to the increasing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

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