19 August 2009A senior United Nations official today repeated the world body’s appeal to Israel to ease restrictions on the movement of Palestinians and of goods in the West Bank and Gaza, and urged the prompt resumption and conclusion of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. In recent months, Israel has improved access in some West Bank areas, helping with efforts to boost living conditions and spurring economic growth, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said in an open Security Council meeting. Nablus’ Chamber of Commerce, he said, has reported a “slow, albeit significant, revival of commercial activity since the beginning of the year.” Israel also announced that as of 5 August, it has expanded passenger crossing hours at Allenby Bridge, which the UN hopes will ease the flow of potentially hundreds of thousands of Palestinians visiting the West Bank. Welcoming the Israeli Government’s actions and statements that it intends to take further measures to alleviate movement and access problems, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco told the 15-member Council that “this is essential if change is to become truly transformative.” Nonetheless, “significant obstacles” persist in the West Bank, with the total number obstacles currently numbering 614, he added. Economic growth in the West Bank would be greatly aided, he said, by the removal of permit requirements for Palestinians to travel into the Jordan Valley, and improving access to East Jerusalem and boosting permits for Palestinian workers for Israel, among other actions. In Gaza, 87 trucks have been allowed in per day, compared to 78 in July, but prior to the imposition of the comprehensive closure regime, 475 trucks were entering Gaza daily as part of normal commerce and trade, the official pointed out. “Today, the overwhelming majority of imports are limited to food and sanitation items, with still little or no entry for all other goods, including items for recovery,” he said. However, there has been some progress, with Israel allowing the shipment of 100,000 litres of diesel and 40,000 litres of gasoline for private use into Gaza for the first time in 10 months. Cement and steel bars were also permitted to enter. “While welcome, these measures are not sufficient to meet the needs of Gaza’s civilian population,” Mr. Fernandez-Taranco emphasized. A report published earlier this week by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) underscored that the ongoing Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, now in its third year, has triggered a “protracted human dignity crisis” with negative humanitarian consequences. “At the heart of this crisis is the degradation in the living conditions of the population, caused by the erosion of livelihoods and the gradual decline in the state of infrastructure, and the quality of vital services in the areas of health, water and sanitation, and education,” adds the report. The blockade, imposed following the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007, includes the closure of Karni, one of the largest and best equipped commercial crossings; sweeping restrictions on the import of industrial, agricultural and construction materials; the suspension of almost all exports; and a general ban on the movement of Palestinians through Erez, the only passenger crossing to the West Bank. “The denial of Palestinians’ right to leave Gaza, or to move freely to the West Bank, particularly when their lives, physical integrity, or basic freedoms are under threat, is another key component of the current human dignity crisis,” the report said. On the overall political situation, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco told the Council that several important developments have occurred on the ground, with international efforts to set the state for further talks under way. United States envoy George Mitchell wrapped up a regional visit late last month to seek commitments from the parties, while representatives of the diplomatic Quartet – comprising the UN, US, Russia and the European Union – met in Jerusalem. Next month, Quartet principals are expected to meet on the sidelines of the General Debate at UN Headquarters in New York and consult also with the League of Arab States. “The Secretary-General looks forward to these meetings as important benchmarks for progress in the renewed effort by the international community this year to achieve concrete movement forward on the political, security and economic tracks,” Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said. The Council also heard today that continued Israeli settler activity in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is still a matter of “grave concern,” with the UN appealing to the Israeli Government to abide by the Quartet’s call to freeze all settlement activity and remove outposts built after March 2001. The Assistant Secretary-General noted that 450 people risk being displaced from East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, the scene of forced evictions of dozens of Palestinian refugees earlier this month. “We reiterate our call on Israel… to cease and reverse provocative actions such as demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem,” he said.