UN envoy urges focus on 'real' Gaza issues


UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov said Saturday that residents of the Gaza strip need jobs and hope more than a harbour and airport, a reference to recent comments by Israel's defence minister.

In an October interview with Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, Israel's hardline defence minister Avigdor Lieberman said that another war with Palestinian militants in Gaza would lead to their complete destruction.

He suggested however that if Gaza's Hamas rulers ceased hostilities "we will be the first to invest in a port, an airport and industrial areas."

In remarks broadcast Saturday by Israeli public radio, Mladenov said Gaza, where thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged in a 2014 war with Israel, said residents in the enclave had more pressing concerns.

"Let's resolve the real problems that we have today. People live in desperate conditions in Gaza," he said.

"Yes, it's important to have an airport and a seaport in Gaza but I don't want us to be distracted by that from resolving the real issues that we face today."

The World Bank said in a September report that just 10.7 percent of the 11,000 houses that were totally destroyed in 2014 had so far been rebuilt and about 50 percent of partially and severely damaged houses are still awaiting repair.

The unemployment rate in the coastal territory is over 40 percent, with close to two thirds of young people out of work.

"People have lost hope," Mladenov said. "Life is gone and this is what makes Gaza more dangerous and more explosive."

But Mladenov added that he did not see Gaza and Israel heading for another war -- for now.

"I think there's an understanding every where; in the international community, in Israel and in Gaza itself, that it is in nobody's interest right now to sleepwalk into another conflict," the envoy said.

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