The Associated Press
December 31, 1969 - 8:00pm

The U.N. and other aid agencies appealed to the international community Wednesday to send $462 million in emergency assistance to address what they said is a humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories.

Most of the money will be used for food and cash handouts, said Maxwell Gaylard, local head of the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. A total of 159 emergency programs are planned in areas such as health, education, food, water and sanitation.

The request for funds in 2009 comes from the U.N. and its partner aid organizations. It is the seventh annual request for emergency funds, besides hundreds of millions of dollars in normal operating budgets.

"Little, if anything, has been achieved" since the beginning of 2008, said Filippo Grandi, deputy commissioner of the U.N. Reliefs and Works Agency, the main U.N. body caring for Palestinian refugees. "Little, if anything, has been felt by the people with whom we work."

Grandi lamented the need to spend funds on emergency responses instead of long-term development projects. He said the situation was especially dire in the Gaza Strip, which is stifled by Israeli and Egyptian border closures and where half the population lives below the deep poverty line.

Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza since the violent Islamic Hamas movement seized control in June 2007. It tightened the already stringent closure earlier this month after a truce with Gaza militants began to unravel.

In the West Bank, the U.N. said Israel's construction of a separation barrier and restrictions on Palestinian travel have hurt the local economy. Israel says the measures are needed for security.

Last year, the U.N. asked for a similar amount of emergency aid. Officials said they raised nearly 70 percent of the funds they sought. Kuwait, the European Union and the United States were last year's largest donors, staff said.

Grandi said he feared the global economic crisis would lead to cuts of as much as one-third in operating funds for U.N. agencies in the Palestinian areas next year.

He said the Israeli closure has prevented U.N. agencies from delivering even the minimal amount of aid needed to meet basic needs in Gaza.

A growing number of U.N. officials, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, have urged Israel to ease the blockade.

Foreign journalists have also been barred from entering the territory and have filed suit with Israel's Supreme Court demanding that the ban be rescinded.


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