World News

Poverty rate in Gaza soars versus WBank: report

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - The percentage of Gazans living in poverty topped 50 percent in 2007, the highest level recorded, as Israel tightened its blockade of the enclave, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics said on Thursday.

Home to 1.5 million Palestinians, Gaza has been hard hit by Israeli sanctions meant to sideline Hamas Islamists who took over the coastal territory a year ago from more secular Fatah forces loyal to Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Statistics Bureau, in an annual report, said 51.8 percent of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in 2007 lived in poverty, versus 47.9 percent in 2006.

In contrast, the poverty rate in the Israeli-occupied West Bank fell to 19.1 percent in 2007, compared with 22 percent a year earlier, due in large part to increased aid flows to the territory, the agency said.

Poverty in the two Palestinian territories taken together rose to 30.3 percent last year, up from 29.8 percent in 2006. The Statistic Bureau said the 2007 poverty rate was the highest level recorded in a decade.

The agency defines any six-member family that earns less than $572 per month -- an amount equal to roughly $3 a day per person -- as below the poverty line. Many international agencies use $2 per day as a measure of poverty.

A shaky Egyptian-brokered truce between Israel and Hamas could help ease economic conditions in the Gaza Strip, Statistics Bureau President Luay Shabaneh said.

The deal requires Israel to gradually let in more humanitarian supplies, but there has been little change so far. Citing cross-border rocket fire, Israel has kept Gaza border crossings closed for two consecutive days this week.

In contrast to the Gaza Strip, aid flows to the West Bank, home to 2.5 million Palestinians, were restored last June when Abbas sacked a Hamas-led unity government and appointed a Western-backed administration in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

“Improving the economic situation hinges on lifting the siege (on Gaza). If the siege is lifted, the economy can recover,” Shabaneh said.

Reporting by Mohammed Assadi; Editing by Samia Nakhoul