The Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Filippo Grandi reiterated the importance of lifting the Israeli blockade on Gaza, also stressing his understanding of Israeli security fears. In a statement by Grandi published on the UN news website, he said the blockade had caused an economic depression, noting that the economy there could no longer be sustained as it was in the past by a vibrant private sector that used to export into Israel and the West Bank. "Those two markets continue to be barred and prohibited because of the blockade, something that we have encouraged our Israeli interlocutors to lift, not because UNRWA is directly involved in that particular aspect of the situation, but because the poverty that follows from the blockade generates humanitarian needs that we then have to support or meet with increasingly difficult resources to obtain," he said at a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York. "Unfortunately, since the middle of last year, no more projects of UNRWA have been approved for implementation," he added. "So we hope, and we have said this many times to our Israeli interlocutors, that that situation of no approval will be soon overcome and that we will be able again to receive positive responses to our requests to build schools and build houses because these are the two key projects that need to be carried out in Gaza by UNRWA." He explained that the core budget of UNRWA is currently facing a projected 2012 shortfall of around $75 million. "We need that money that has not been pledged by any donor at the moment to finish the year and to be able to keep the schools running and the health clinics running," he said. "We are talking to a number of donors of course, but it is a strong appeal that I am making today for that hole, for that gap to be filled." Regarding Lebanon, Grandi called for the implementation of legislative measures, passed a year and half ago by its parliament, to expand the right to work for the Palestinian refugees. On the situation in Syria, the UNRWA Head reiterated a call by other UN officials for access for aid workers to reach those in need of assistance there, including Palestinian beneficiaries of UNRWA services in that country. UNRWA is in charge of assisting around 5 million Palestinian refugees in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well as Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The organization, active since 1950, provides support to registered refugees in the sectors of health, education, shelter, emergency relief, infrastructure, and economic development.