OCHA reports that in July, Israel tightened its longstanding blockade on the Gaza Strip, worsening the already desperate humanitarian situation. Measures adopted by the Israeli authorities included restricting imports to mainly food and medicine; a complete halt to the exit of all goods; and a reduction of the fishing area from six to three nautical miles from Gaza’s coast. The entry of fuel and cooking gas was also suspended during July for over one week, and again since 2 August (ongoing as of the time of writing).
By early August, the Palestinian Federation of Industries in Gaza indicated that over 4,000 workers in the construction sector had been temporarily laid off, primarily due to the shortage of construction materials.
These restrictions were reportedly imposed in response to the continuous launching of incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza towards Israel that have resulted in some 1,200 fires to date on agricultural land and nature reserves. This practice, along with the ongoing demonstrations and clashes at the perimeter fence and several limited military escalations, have brought Israel and Hamas to the brink of a new round of full-scale hostilities. In July alone, 21 Palestinians, of them 14 civilians, including seven children, as well as one Israeli soldier, were killed (or died of wounds sustained earlier), in conflict-related incidents in the Gaza Strip and Israel. While a major escalation was averted following ad hoc ceasefires brokered by the UN and Egypt, tensions remain high.
In the meantime, living conditions in Gaza continue to deteriorate under the impact of the severe electricity shortage that causes an average of 20 hours of blackout daily. This Bulletin highlights the effect on already overloaded and poorly maintained wastewater treatment plants: over 100 million litres of poorly treated sewage are discharged into the sea every day, posing serious health and environmental hazards. This is of particular concern during the summer when swimming in the sea is one of the few recreational activities available to the population of Gaza.
Two announcements during the month have shed some positive light on the otherwise grim situation prevailing in Gaza. UNDP announced initiatives aimed at creating over 2,500 immediate and short-term job opportunities in Gaza over a 12-month period, particularly benefitting youth and women. Also, the World Bank’s Board recommended an increase from $55 to $90 million in its allocation for development interventions in Gaza, with focus on job creation in the private sector.
In his briefing to the Security Council on 24 July, the UN Special Coordinator, Nickolay Mladenov, stressed that in Gaza: “Unless we begin in earnest the crucial work required to change the current deteriorating dynamics, another explosion is almost a certainty… The human dimension must be at the forefront of all our efforts. Gazans deserve to live their lives in freedom and dignity. That is their right. It is not a privilege that can be taken hostage, that can be granted or withheld by others who have no regard for their suffering. Israelis living near Gaza also deserve to finally be free of indiscriminate attacks, be it by rockets, mortars or incendiary devices. Another missed opportunity could have disastrous consequences, including for reaching a broader Israeli-Palestinian peace on the basis of the two-state solution, in which Gaza is an integral part of the future Palestinian state.”