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Date posted: June 12, 2006
By AFP

The Palestinians are facing a spiralling humanitarian crisis because of a EU and US freeze on aid to the Hamas government, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said.

"The ICRC is deeply concerned about the growing needs and the worsening security situation in the occupied territories, caused in large part by the decision earlier this year to withhold funds and other aid from the Palestinian Authority," the relief organisation said Monday.

In a statement, the ICRC's Middle East chief Balthasar Staehelin warned that without efforts to resolve the crisis, the situation could turn into a "major humanitarian emergency."

The ICRC, which noted that it had repeatedly sounded the alarm over recent months, said that it was increasing its budget for Palestinian aid operations by nearly a quarter.

"The additional funding will provide the means to meet the most acute needs of Palestinians affected by the current crisis, particularly in the faltering health-care sector," it said.

The ICRC said that over seven million Swiss francs (5.7 million dollars, 4.5 million euros) of the additional 10 million Swiss francs (8.1 million dollars, 6.4 million euros) would be used to support emergency and other essential medical services, most of them furnished by the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

"The ability to provide these services has been severely jeopardized by the fact that the Society no longer receives funding from the Palestinian Authority," it said.

The ICRC said that it likewise planned to increase aid to communities affected by Israeli security restrictions.

It also said that it was not up to aid organisations to bridge the gap as basic services provided by the already-struggling Palestinian Authority fall apart.

"Humanitarian organizations cannot replace the authorities in their role as provider of public services," it said.

"As the ICRC has pointed out on previous occasions, the occupying power -- in this case the State of Israel -- is responsible for meeting the basic needs of the civilian population of the territories it occupies. Those needs include sufficient food, medical supplies and means of shelter."

The ICRC has persistently refused to comment on the politics of the move by Washington and Brussels to suspend financial support to the Palestinian Authority, which has long relied on international aid.

The measure was part of a diplomatic drive to isolate the Islamic militant group Hamas, which has been behind dozens of suicide attacks in the five-year Palestinian uprising against Israel.

Hamas formed a government earlier this year after an election victory.

The US and EU have demanded that it renounce violence, recognise Israel and abide by past commitments made by the Palestinian Authority.

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Source: Agence France Press
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