A man with a sack of flour from UNRWA headquarters in Rafah.
A man with a sack of flour from UNRWA headquarters in Rafah. Photo by Reuters
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A United Nations humanitarian relief agency is accusing Israel of deliberately disrupting the international community's aid efforts for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

According to a special report released by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA ), Israel is not permitting construction of buildings for needy Palestinians and is encumbering on the freedom of movement of aid groups and their staffs.

The report, which was issued on Thursday under the headline "Impeding Assistance: Challenges to Meeting the Humanitarian Needs of Palestinians," said that human rights NGOs last year committed a total of $660 million in aid to the territories.

A large portion of the report is devoted to the humanitarian situation in Gaza, where it claims that UNRWA, the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees, has been unable to build 100 news schools it says are needed to accommodate the fast-growing population.

In May 2009, the UN submitted a request for Israeli approval of a wide-ranging, $80 million plan to provide housing, medical assistance and educational services to Gazans. After nine months of negotiations, the Israeli government permitted a scaled-down version of the original plan, including the construction of 151 residential units in a project in Khan Yunis.

On Friday, a report appeared in the Israel Hayom newspaper which quoted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying: "In Gaza, let them build [homes] with wood. Concrete is used to build bunkers."

The OCHA report claims Israel is interfering with the movement of local Palestinian aid workers. According to the report, 20 percent of requests for West Bank workers to secure passage to Gaza were rejected, while 46 percent of requests for Gaza-based employees to gain entry into the West Bank were turned down. The OCHA report said Israeli constraints have complicated efforts to train workers in Gaza.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, aid groups have encountered other problems. In 2010, the UN formulated a series of urgent plans aimed at addressing shortages in water, educational services and housing for needy Palestinians living in Area C, the West Bank territories under exclusive Israeli military and civilian administration. According to the report, the international body prepared 15 initiatives that were intended to provide water to 52,000 Palestinians in 17 different locales in Area C, as well as 25 projects for the reconstruction of schools to service 6,000 children. Three months have passed since the UN presented these plans to the Israeli government, which has yet to offer its response.

Another issue cited by OCHA is movement in the West Bank. While the report acknowledged that the lifting of roadblocks and removal of checkpoints have significantly improved NGOs' ability to work, it stated that difficulties remain. In August 2009, aid agencies were unable to deliver 170 water tankers intended to service 58 families and some 5,000 sheep in the southern Hebron Hills due to mounds of earth that impeded their progress. This forced half the residents of one village to relocate in order to find sources of water, the report stated.