Press Releases

    PAL/1911
    4 April 2002

    PALESTINE RELIEF AND WORKS AGENCY WARNS OF
    HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN WEST BANK CITIES,
    TOWNS, REFUGEE CAMPS

    JERUSALEM, 3 April (UNRWA) -- An emergency relief staff member from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was arrested and other staff threatened yesterday by Israeli soldiers after a United Nations team succeeded in delivering urgently needed supplies of food and medicine to Ramallah hospital. Despite prior coordination with the Israeli authorities, the emergency teams were fired upon, endangering the Agency’s emergency operations and putting the staff at great personal risk.

    Reports from UNRWA staff members living in Ramallah and eyewitness reports from the Agency’s emergency teams indicate that there has been considerable destruction in greater Ramallah. There is a lack of running water and electricity, and wanton destruction to infrastructure, trees, cars, public and private buildings is reportedly widespread. The accumulation of garbage and the damage to sewage lines in Ramallah and the adjacent refugee camp threatens the public health of the population and adds to the mounting fear that cross-contamination of the fresh water supply is a real risk.

    Several staff members from other United Nations agencies operating in the occupied Palestinian territory volunteered their efforts and joined UNRWA’s emergency teams in rendering humanitarian assistance. UNRWA is very appreciative of support from these agencies. Today and for the next few days UNRWA teams will be attempting to enter several areas of the West Bank to deliver emergency food and medicine supplies.

    Refugees and UNRWA staff living in Amari, Jalazone, Jenin, Dheisheh, Aida and other refugee camps in the West Bank are reporting a serious shortage of basic food items, baby milk and medicine. In several camps, heavy shelling is reported and house-to-house searches are under way, resulting in the arrest of unknown numbers of camp residents. Early this morning Israeli army units went into an UNRWA boys’ school in Jalazone camp, tore down the surrounding wall and, as in previous incursions into refugee camps, turned the school into a staging area and an observation point. Repeated efforts to enter Jenin refugee camp and evacuate the wounded proved unsuccessful. At least six were killed in Jenin camp and several camp residents injured.

    At least five of the 19 refugee camps have been placed under curfew and camp residents are expressing considerable fear that they will be targeted once again and that personal safety and property are at risk.

    Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, expressed his deep concern at the growing deterioration in the security and humanitarian situation and for the well being of the detained and besieged United Nations staff members. He called on the Israeli authorities to immediately release UNRWA staff members, and allow other United Nations staff in besieged areas to regain their freedom of movement. He pledged that UNRWA would continue to provide its emergency humanitarian services to those in need, despite the serious obstacles and the dangers to which Agency staff are exposed. Mr. Hansen also called on the donor community to ensure that adequate funding is made available to the Agency to cope with the added burdens resulting from damage to civic infrastructure, and increasing numbers needing immediate food and medical assistance.

    For more information contact: In Jerusalem, Sami Mshasha on 5890408 or 050 317094; in Gaza, Paul McCann on 059 428 008.

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