UNRWA chief urges Israel, Egypt to lift Gaza siege

GAZA CITY – Outgoing UNRWA chief Filippo Grandi on Tuesday appealed to both Israel and Egypt to immediately lift their "siege" of the Gaza Strip.

"The blockade of Gaza has now lasted longer than the most famous blockades of modern history: the blockade in Sarajevo, the blockade in Berlin and the blockade in Leningrad," Grandi told a press conference in Gaza City.

The Gaza Strip has groaned under an Israeli blockade first imposed in 2006.

Palestinians say the blockade has deprived the Palestinian enclave's nearly two million residents of the most basic needs.

An all-out Egyptian crackdown on cross-border tunnels, Gaza's main supply line for commodities smuggled from Egypt, has further eroded the strip's struggling economy.

The Egyptian crackdown, which followed the ouster by the military of elected president Mohamed Morsi last July, has also included extended closures of the Rafah border crossing.

Grandi, who will leave his post next month, said he respected Egypt's decision to protect its security.

"But I think the world should not forget about the security of the people of Gaza," he added. "Their security is worth the same as everybody else's security, so we appeal to the humanitarian sense of all."

The UNRWA commissioner-general described the Israeli blockade on Gaza as "illegal" and one which "must be lifted."

He went on to say that the embargo had hindered the UNRWA's construction and aid projects in the Gaza Strip, which, he said, were together worth some $150 million.

"I also want to make a strong appeal for export to resume, because the lack of export is the main reason for the poverty of Gaza," he stressed.

Grandi pledged that the UNRWA would continue providing services to Palestinian refugees despite the difficult circumstances.

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