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A high ranking UN official on Monday described the Gaza health system as being in a "pathetic state" and said that European prisoners had better access to basic services than residents of the coastal Strip.

John Ging, the Gaza head of UNRWA, the UN's agency for Palestinian refugees, said that access to health care and clean drinking water remained problematic.

"Many prisoners in European jails have access to better basic services than ordinary decent Palestinians living in Gaza," he said, referring to reports that likened the enclave to an "open-air prison" during an event in Gaza City to mark World Health Day.

"Many parties were responsible for the current state of affairs in the enclave," Ging said, implying that the burden of improving conditions was on both the Israeli government and Palestinian factions.

The problems of the health sector stem from both the Israeli restrictions imposed on imports to the Gaza Strip as well as power struggles between Fatah and Hamas, the main Palestinian parties.

According to the World Health Organization, at least 32 people have died since June 2007, when Hamas ousted Fatah and overran the strip, while waiting to leave the enclave for medical treatment or due to delays in receiving care.