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UN humanitarian chief visits Gaza, says situation is miserable
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    GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The U.N.’s top humanitarian affairs official visited Gaza Friday and said he was shocked by the ‘‘grim and miserable’’ humanitarian situation there. He urged that the territory’s borders be opened to relieve the suffering.
    John Holmes, the United Nation’s undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, toured Gaza’s largest hospital where he spoke to dialysis patients and saw the neonatal ward.
    ‘‘I have been shocked by the grim and miserable things I have seen and heard about during the day,’’ Holmes told reporters during a news conference at the main U.N. compound in Gaza.
    ‘‘These grim and miserable things are the result of the current restrictions on the crossings into Gaza, and the very limited amounts of foods and other materials being allowed in,’’ he said. ‘‘So what is essentially needed is an opening of the crossings, a lot more goods coming in.’’
    Israel and Egypt severely restricted access to Gaza after the Islamic militant Hamas took control by force last June. Since then, Gaza’s private sector has largely collapsed, and poverty among the area’s 1.4 million residents has deepened, with some 80 percent now depending on some food aid.
    Holmes also toured the Karni industrial zone near the closed cargo crossing between Gaza and Israel. The industrial zone once employed 1,800 Palestinians, but has been idle since June, officials said.
    The U.N. official said the amount of goods entering Gaza had dropped to 10 percent of what it was a year ago. In recent weeks, Israel has also reduced the supply of fuel and electricity to Gaza, in an attempt to pressure Gaza militants to halt rocket fire. The reductions have prompted widespread power outages.
    Hamas militants blasted down parts of the border partition between Egypt and Gaza last month after Israel tightened its closure. For 12 days, hundreds of thousands of Gazans flooded across the border unchecked, stocking up in Egypt on food, fuel and other goods made scarce by the border restrictions.
    Holmes said he would raise his concerns in meetings with Israeli government officials and representatives of the West Bank government of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas’ main rival.
    Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said an improvement depended on an end to rocket fire.
    ‘‘If terrorists in Gaza were to cease firing rockets into Israel, trying to kill our people, the situation could very quickly return to where it was,’’ Regev said.
    Holmes also planned to visit the Israeli border town of Sderot near Gaza, hit hard by rockets fired by Gaza militants.
    In the West Bank, a Palestinian woman suffering from heart disease and trying to reach the hospital died in her village after Israeli soldiers manning a nearby checkpoint turned her back despite her family’s pleas, relatives said Friday.
    The Israeli military said it issued permission for an ambulance to evacuate the woman but none arrived.
    Israel says its West Bank checkpoints are a central feature of security measures that have drastically reduced Palestinian attacks against Israelis in recent years, and says it makes allowances for humanitarian cases. But Palestinians have reported several instances of people dying because of checkpoint delays.
    Palestinians say the checkpoints cause unnecessary suffering to the roughly 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank and cripple their economy.

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