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Swiss humanitarian aid trickles into Gaza

Switzerland has launched its first aid mission in the Gaza Strip since the outbreak of fighting in late December, the foreign ministry said on Saturday.

Three workers with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) crossed the Erez checkpoint and into Gaza on Friday, authorities said. They will operate alongside local SDC employees and partner organisations to distribute emergency aid.

An unofficial truce between Israel and the Islamist Hamas group, which controls the Gaza Strip, is expected to hold while Egyptian mediation continues. Israel ordered a unilateral ceasefire last Saturday.

The government has set aside SFr4.25 million ($3.64 million), of which SFr3 million will go to the United Nations relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, it said. The SDC's regular annual budget for the Palestinian Territories is SFr21 million.

Switzerland will provide food, water, medicine and shelter, authorities said. Schools and counselling are other priorities. Its first shipment of relief supplies has also arrived at the Egyptian-Israeli border, the government said.

Other goods are being procured in Egypt and being prepared for shipment.

Authorities in Bern also said they would supply three rapid response teams, as well as a logistician to the World Food Programme for three months.

The Catholic charity Caritas Switzerland said on Saturday it had doubled its aid to Gaza from SFr200,000 to SFr400,000 and that it would support the Palestinian Medical Relief Society.

The Palestinian health ministry says that the 22-day conflict killed 1,314 people, of whom 412 were children. Some 5,300 were reported injured.

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