Gaza occupation must end, says Church Commissioner

APThe tiny Christian population in Gaza numbers around 2,500

Church Commissioner and Tory MP Tony Baldry called for an end to the economic blockade on Gaza.

Speaking during a debate in the House of Commons that he initiated, he repeated international development minister Alan Duncan's warning that "come the autumn, Gaza could be without food, without power and without clean water".

The crisis has been brought on by the economic blockade of Gaza, which has shut out vast quantities of humanitarian aid to the region for the last eight years, as well as effectively banning Gazans from all forms of travel beyond their borders.

This has crippled the local economy, as the people have no way of selling their goods to other countries, resulting in 50% unemployment rates.

Mr Baldry quoted Christian Aid's comments on the blockade: "Israel's prolonged closure of the Gaza Strip, as one of its occupation policies, continues to effectively punish 1.7 million Palestinians for the actions of a minority."

He raised particular concern about the plight of Christians in the region.

"It is worth remembering that there are Christians among the Palestinians. Palestinian Christians are a minority among Palestinians, and Palestinians are a minority in the Middle East, so Palestinian Christians often feel that they are twice a minority and consequently doubly powerless at controlling their own lives," he said.

Mr Baldry shared that the blockade had led to power shortages and food price rises, with one report stating that a kilogram of tomatoes had quadrupled in price.

There is also a crippling lack of medical aid, he said, noting: "People appear not to be getting permits to travel to hospital. For the past two years there have been serious shortages of medical supplies and drugs, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 30% to 50% of drugs are at zero stock."

Recently, floods in Gaza have displaced 11,000 people, further exacerbating the problems, with raw sewage in the streets.

Mr David Winnick, Labour MP for Warstall North, highlighted that 90% of the water in Gaza is currently undrinkable, which he described as "a scandal in itself".

Power shortages have lead to other problems also, with Liberal Democrat MP for Brent Central, Sarah Teather, highlighting the "number of people who are affected by burns because of things that they are trying desperately to do to create their own generators in order to get around the lack of power"

During the debate, MPs heard the concern raised by the United Nations that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020.

Mr Baldry suggested that not only was Israel's actions in preventing aid and supplies reaching Gaza a tragedy, it was also illegal.

"It cannot be right, in the 21st century that people are suffering as they are. As the UN General Assembly mission concluded, under international law: 'collective punishment of the civilian population in Gaza is not lawful in any circumstances," he said.

Mr Baldry suggested that unless people were allowed to move in and out of Gaza freely, the area would be "simply a large open prison".

"It is difficult to think of anywhere else in the world where there is such restriction on the movement of people," he said.

"Secondly, there is an urgent need for fuel - fuel for power plants, fuel to pump fresh water and fuel to put in cars, which are all essentials for life."

He added: "The occupation must end. Gazan business should be allowed to export to Israel, and through Israel to the West Bank."