House letters seek Gaza humanitarian help

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Two letters circulating in the U.S. House of Representatives are seeking humanitarian assistance for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Initiated by Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the letter asks President Obama to press Israel and Egypt for "immediate relief" from the blockade of Gaza in place since Hamas’ takeover in 2006, and intensified following last winter’s Israel-Gaza war.

The letter notes severe shortages in food, clean water, fuel and sanitation and health supplies. Americans for Peace Now and J Street are among a number of dovish groups backing the letter.

"The people of Gaza have suffered enormously since the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt following Hamas’s coup, and particularly following Operation Cast Lead," the letter says. "We also sympathize deeply with the people of southern Israel who have suffered from abhorrent rocket and mortar attacks. We recognize that the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups. This concern must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. Truly, fulfilling the needs of civilians in Israel and Gaza are mutually reinforcing goals."

Another letter, initiated by Reps. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), is addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and focuses on Israel’s refusal to allow Gazans to attend West Bank universities.

"Ensuring that students from Gaza have access to higher education promotes U.S. foreign policy interests by investing in the future of the region — those bright, talented young people seeking to better themselves and their society," the letter says. "While the Gaza Strip has limited educational facilities, West Bank universities provide a broader range of degree programs including those in humanitarian fields such as occupational and speech therapy. Unfortunately, Israel’s near-total ban on travel from Gaza to the West Bank, even for educational purposes, has meant Gazan students have limited higher education opportunities."

It is not clear what the deadline is for signing the letters, which began circulating in recent days.
 

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