NGOs Call for Free Access to Gaza as Blockade Enters 3rd Year

Over 30 non-governmental humanitarian organizations have joined together to express their concern over Israel's continued blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has been in force for over two years now.

"These indiscriminate sanctions are affecting the entire 1.5 million population of Gaza, and ordinary women, children and the elderly are the first victims," expressed the groups in a statement released Thursday.

The "suffocation of Gaza's economy has led to unprecedented unemployment and poverty rates and almost total aid dependency," stated the groups, which include Action Against Hunger, CARE International, Oxfam International, and World Vision International.

"While Gazans are being kept alive through humanitarian aid, ordinary civilians have lost all quality of life as they fight to survive," they added.

Since June 2007, Egypt and Israel have imposed the blockade on the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip of the Palestinian territories , accusing Hamas of continuing smuggling weapons into Gaza, which Israel has declared a "hostile entity."

While Egypt feared a spill-over of Hamas-style militancy into Egypt, Israel states that some people claiming to require medical attention in Gaza were in fact planning terrorist attacks. Israel says Hamas has diverted aid in the past, and could appropriate building materials for its own use.

Aid agencies, however, say they have stringent monitoring systems in place and that the blockade of the Gaza Strip is creating "an atmosphere of deprivation in Gaza that can only deepen the sense of hopelessness and despair among people."

"The people of Gaza need to be shown an alternative of hope and dignity," the signers of Thursday's letter stated.

The humanitarian groups, together with the United Nations and U.N. agencies, are calling for free and uninhibited access for all humanitarian assistance "in accordance with the international agreements and in accordance with universally recognized international human rights and humanitarian law standards."

"We also call for a return to normalized trade to enable the poverty and unemployment rates to decrease," they added.

"Allowing human development and prosperity to take hold is an essential first step towards the establishment of lasting peace," they concluded.

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