17 September 2002
United Nations officials travelling in the Gaza Strip were forced to take cover today when Israeli soldiers fired warning shots in the direction of a delegation headed by the senior UN relief official in the region.
Peter Hansen, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and others accompanying him had to abort their visit to the Rafah refugee camp after shots were fired from a nearby outpost.
The delegation, which also included representatives of several donor countries and Palestinian Authority officials, was visiting an area of the camp where refugee homes had previously been destroyed by the Israeli army. No one was injured, according to a UN spokesman, who said the world body would file an official complaint about the incident with the Israeli authorities.
Earlier, UNRWA officially handed over 97 new shelters to refugee families in the Rafah camp whose houses had been destroyed by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). The dwellings, which can accommodate up to 100 families with over five members each, are a first step in the Agency’s effort to provide shelter for the estimated 4,000 refugees who lost their homes in the conflict.
“These new shelters make a solid statement of the commitment of UNRWA and the international community to the welfare of the refugees,” said Mr. Hansen. “The provision of human shelter has been a fundamental component of UNRWA’s mandate since its foundation, but it speaks greatly of the tragedy of the Palestine refugees that after 52 years we still find ourselves called upon to counteract the impact of conflict in so basic a manner.”