UN chief decries ‘dramatic’ humanitarian crisis in Gaza

BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip (AP) — The U.N. secretary-general on Wednesday urged Israel to ease its blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and called for large-scale foreign aid, saying the situation in the isolated territory is “one of the most dramatic humanitarian crises” he has seen.

Speaking at a U.N.-backed elementary school in the northern Gaza Strip, Antonio Guterres also called for unity among the Palestinians’ warring factions — Hamas, which rules Gaza, and Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The division only undermines the cause of the Palestinian people,” he said. In an apparent message to Hamas, he said “militantism” was causing damage to the region, adding that he had a dream to “come back to Gaza one day and to see Gaza as part of a Palestine state in peace and prosperity.”

Guterres is on his first visit to the region since taking office at the beginning of the year. During a four-day visit that was ending Wednesday, he met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to encourage the resumption of peace talks.

His stop in Gaza was meant to draw attention to the seaside territory, where conditions have steadily deteriorated since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power a decade ago.

Israel, backed by Egypt, has maintained a blockade on Gaza, saying the measure is needed to prevent the group from smuggling weapons and fighters. Hamas seeks Israel’s destruction, and the two sides have fought three devastating wars.

Years of conflict and isolation, compounded by the divide with the rival Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, have ground Gaza’s economy to a standstill. Unemployment is over 40 percent, and the territory suffers from power outages of up to 20 hours a day.

“I am deeply moved to be in Gaza today, unfortunately, to witness one of the most dramatic humanitarian crises that I have seen in many years working as a humanitarian in the United Nations,” Guterres said.

In his speech, Guterres said it was crucial that peace talks aimed at…

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