UN agency for Palestinian refugees face major obstacles in maintaining services

Jordan has the largest concentration of Palestinian refugees, with nearly two million in 13 camps. (Arjan El Fassed)


The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) faced enormous hurdles in the occupied Palestinian territory that had developed as a result of violence, curfews and closures, Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of his agency, told the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) this afternoon.

Introducing his report on the Agency’s activities during the period of July 2003 through 2004, he said the past year had unfortunately seen a dramatic increase in the scale of military operations in the Gaza Strip. The rate of house demolitions was unprecedented: an average of 45 people a day were made homeless. Incursions, house demolitions, air-strikes and extra-judicial killings had continued. In the last two weeks, an additional 41 people had been killed, 132 injured and 378 people had been rendered homeless. He said the UNRWA simply could not keep up.

He said the agency remained under considerable financial constraints, he said. The Emergency Programme had received pledges for only 45 per cent of its budget. Two initiatives have been launched to increase voluntary contributions. One was giving a strong, new thrust to fundraising efforts in the Arab World. Another was the process of establishing two country support groups, one in Spain and one in the United States.

The future for UNRWA and for the Palestine refugees, particularly those in the Gaza Strip, was uncertain. He feared that the proposed disengagement by Israel from the Gaza Strip would not be accompanied by a radical easing of movement for both people and goods, would exacerbate economic stagnation, and that the donor community would continue to bear the burden of the humanitarian crisis. Operational and programme constraints were at an all-time high.

He spoke of a series of “unfortunate and unfair accusations” by the Israeli Defence Forces and Israeli Government officials, culminating in the demand that he withdraw from his post. “I do not wish to dwell on the details, but simply ask that we all move forward in a productive manner that benefits all people of the region.”

The Permanent Observer of Palestine, said that the plight of the Palestine refugees continued to be as critical an issue today as it had ever been, and the UNRWA’s assistance continued to be crucial in alleviating their suffering, as Israel continued to harm, dispossess and displace the refugees. The socio-economic conditions of the refugees remained difficult. Palestinian refugees continued to face serious challenges and threats to well-being, particularly as a result of ongoing military attacks and the continuing imposition of severe restrictions on movement. Such actions by the occupying Power were against international law.

The representative of Lebanon said the issue of Palestinian refugees was not only a humanitarian issue, but also a political and juridical one, linked to the occupation and to international peace and security. The refugee question was also linked to principles of international law, he said, in particular to principles of justice and equity.

Egypt’s representative said Israel’s disengagement from Gaza should be part of Israel’s implementation of the Road Map. It must, therefore, be a complete and comprehensive withdrawal, followed by similar withdrawals from the West Bank. Israel must also abide by the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice concerning the construction of the separation wall.

The representative of Switzerland drew attention to a conference, jointly organized by the UNWRA and Switzerland, which had taken place in Geneva on 7 and 8 June. He it had identified many areas in which a tripartite partnership between donors, host countries and the UNWRA could speed up the Agency’s interventions, as well as the usefulness and effectiveness of its activities for the benefit of refugees. While Israel’s right to protect itself against terrorist attacks was not disputed, all measures must be in compliance with international humanitarian law.

The representatives of United Arab Emirates, Syria, Jordan and Tunisia also took the floor, as did the Permanent Observer of the Holy See and of the Organization of Islamic States. Hans Jacob Frydenlund (Norway), Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, introduced that body’s report.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, 2 November, to continue its consideration of the UNRWA.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to consider the activities of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Before the Committee was the report of the Commissioner-General of UNRWA (document A/59/13) for the period 1 July 2003 to 30 June 2004, which says that the reporting period was characterized by the continuation of strife in the occupied Palestinian territory. The number of suicide bombings inside Israel decreased significantly, while rocket and mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip continued. Military incursions into refugee camps in the Gaza Strip were particularly extensive, characterized by a further dramatic increase in shelter and home demolition. No less than 901 refugee shelters were destroyed and 1,410 damaged.

The severe economic depression of the Palestinian economy continued unabated, the report says. According to the World Bank, unemployment declined slightly, but remained at over 25 per cent. Real wages declined by a further 2.6 per cent, and Palestinian per capita income remained some 35 per cent lower than its pre-intifada level. As a result, over half the Palestinian population continued to live below the poverty line. Also according to the World Bank, physical damage from the conflict had reached $930 million by the end of 2002, including to UNRWA schools, training centres and health-care facilities.

During the reporting period, 34 UNWRA staff members were detained by the Israeli authorities, and the Agency was systematically refused access to staff in detention. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to follow up on any of the Agency’s requests for official information concerning the charges against them. The Agency notes with regret that the 120 local UNRWA staff in the occupied Palestinian territory are ironically the only United Nations staff members working in the area who do not receive hazard pay.

The report states that in the West Bank, military operations carried out by the Israeli forces, including curfews and closures and the creation of closed military zones, had an adverse impact on the Agency’s ability to carry out its humanitarian functions. In the Gaza Strip, external and internal closures led to severe interruptions in the delivery of UNRWA humanitarian supplies. Israeli authorities continued to hinder the movement of international staff into and out of the Gaza Strip.

During the reporting period, the Government of Israel initiated a plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip, the report says. The UNRWA hoped that the implementation of the plan could bring an end to the occupation in the Gaza Strip, a relaxation of the closure regime and unfettered access for Palestinian goods to the outside world. The Agency did not, however, exclude the possibility that the disengagement would maintain most restrictions on the freedom of movement of persons and goods. In such a situation, the Agency would be called upon to step up its efforts to ameliorate the suffering of the refugees and would require significant increases in extrabudgetary contributions. The plan remained unimplemented at the end of the reporting period.

The Government of Israel also proceeded with the construction of the “wall/fence” inside the West Bank, the report continues. The wall/fence has already led to the further impoverishment and isolation of refugees families living in its vicinity and has created new obstacles to the delivery of essential UNRWA services to them. The Israeli High Court has instructed the Israeli Government to make greater efforts to ameliorate its adverse impact, but UNRWA remains concerned that both the existing construction and its further extension will constitute a new and formidable obstacle to the delivery of the Agency’s services to the affected population.

During the reporting period, UNRWA continued to implement its regular programme, providing education, health, social services and microcredit assistance to Palestine refugees in its five fields of operation –- the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. It also pursued vigorously its processes of internal management reform, with a view to enhancing its overall efficiency and effectiveness. It also undertook the preparation of a new medium-term plan and organized its first major conference to stimulate partnerships and strengthen its relations with its stakeholders.

The report states that appeals for assistance from the international community to fund the Agency’s emergency programmes in the occupied Palestinian territory were launched for the second half of 2003 ($103 million) and for 2004 ($194 million). The response to those appeals has gradually decreased as the crisis entered its fourth year. In 2003, contributions covered 47 per cent of the needs, while the proportion for 2004 stood at 32 per cent as of 30 June. Continued support of the UNRWA Emergency Appeal is crucial to the survival of the Palestine refugees, and the Agency is concerned that donors are increasingly reluctant to fund construction of new homes for refugees whose shelters have been destroyed by the Israeli Defence Forces, as such contributions could be seen as making them complicit in the violations of international humanitarian law committed by the occupying Power. The UNRWA expressed the view that, while it agrees that the wide-scale destruction could well be considered contrary to international humanitarian law, it would be particularly ironic if this position of principle were applied to the sole detriment of the refugees and other civilian victims.

The report then describes in detail its activities regarding education, health and relief and social services in its five fields of operation, as well as financial and legal matters.

Also before the Committee was the report of the Secretary-General on persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities (document A/59/151), which refers to correspondence between the Secretary-General and the Permanent Representative of Israel regarding actions taken by the Government of Israel in implementing resolution 57/119, which reaffirmed the right of all persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities to return to their homes, and endorsed the efforts of the Commissioner-General of UNRWA to provide humanitarian assistance, on an emergency basis and as a temporary measure, to such persons.

The report presents the information made available by the Commissioner-General to the Secretary-General on the return of refugees registered with the Agency to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from places outside the occupied Palestinian territory. The Agency is not involved in any arrangements for the return of refugees, nor is it involved in any arrangements for the return of displaced persons who are not registered as refugees. The UNRWA knows of 550 refugees who have returned to the West Bank and Gaza from places outside occupied Palestinian territory between 1 July 2003 and 30 June 2004. However, some of these may not themselves have been displaced in 1967, but may be members of the family of a displaced registered refugee. In that context, the number of displaced registered refugees who are known by the Agency to have returned to the occupied territories is about 24,600 since June 1967.

The Committee also had before it the report of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, in which the Commission notes that it has nothing new to report since the submission of its report of 31 August 2003 (document A/59/260, annex).

Also before the Committee was the report of the Secretary-General on Palestine refugees’ properties and their revenues (document A/59/279), which states that on 12 April 2004 the Secretary–General sent notes verbales to Israel and all other Member States, drawing attention to the relevant provisions of General Assembly resolutions 58/91 to 58/95, in particular paragraph 4 of resolution 58/94, and requesting information by 31 May 2004 concerning any action taken or envisaged in relation to their implementation.

A reply from Israel dated 12 July 2004 stated that in light of that State’s desire to end all acts of violence and terrorism in the region, improve the humanitarian situation and achieve a negotiated settlement in the context of the Road Map, Israel regretted that the resolutions concerning UNRWA’s efforts continued to be rife with irrelevant politicized rhetoric that detracted from its important humanitarian mandate. Further, Israel was also concerned that UNRWA had failed to address the problems caused to the fulfilment of its mandate by the extensive terrorist infrastructure that had taken root in Palestinian “refugee camps” and drew the Agency’s attention to their misuse by armed elements.

Finally, the Committee had before it the report of the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (document A/59/442), which describes that body’s activities during 2004 and provides a detailed outline of the current financial situation of UNRWA.

Introduction of Reports

PETER HANSEN, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), introduced the Agency’s report (document A/59/13) and gave an overview of the Agency’s activities. He said the largest by far was the education programme. Serving almost 500,000 pupils at the preparatory level in 658 schools, it employed 73 per cent of the total Agency staff and accounted for 60 per cent of its expenditure. The quality of education was deteriorating because the Agency was unable to provide adequate classroom space; average class size was now 41 students, and many schools operated on a double-shift system. The Agency had completed construction of nine new schools and another seven not yet complete. The modernization of the host country curricula had also been a burden.

He said spending on health had been less than $15 per refugee per year, but the Palestine refugee population had been provided with comprehensive primary health-care services. UNWRA doctors saw 10 patients a day on average. Because of demographic developments -– 40 per cent of the population was below 18 years, and 24 per cent were women of reproductive age -– there had been an increase in demand on services. As a result of the humanitarian crisis in the occupied territories, there had been an increased incidence of malnutrition and anaemia, as well as psychological concern, particularly for children. Ninety per cent of parents had reported that their children exhibited traumatic stress-related symptoms.

Food and cash support for more than 61,000 of the most destitute refugee families accounted for 84 per cent of the Relief and Social Services Department’s resources — 10 per cent of the Agency’s budget. Shelter repair and reconstruction was entirely dependent upon extrabudgetary contributions. During the reporting period, only 1.2 per cent of the needed repairs had been completed.

He said a shining light in programme activities was the self-financing microcredit programme. It was now the largest source of credit in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and was expanding in Jordan and Syria. Of the $12 million disbursed, 31 per cent of the almost 16,000 loans were to women. Women participating in the solidarity-group lending product in Gaza had a 93 per cent rate of repayment.

He said UNWRA faced enormous hurdles in the occupied Palestinian territory, as a result of violence, curfews and closures. In 2000, the Agency had launched its Emergency Programme. During the past year, the Agency had provided food aid to more than 1.3 million refugees and the emergency job-creation programme had generated more than 1,823,000 work days. It had provided temporary accommodation and emergency assistance and had launched several rehousing projects. The Israeli wall/fence was having severe detrimental effects on the Palestinian population and UNWRA operations. The Agency was undertaking a series of surveys to determine how the barrier was affecting refugees. The number of mobile clinics had been increased to provide health care to more than 91,000 patients who could not reach facilities due to movement restrictions in the West Bank.

The past year had unfortunately seen a dramatic increase in the scale of military operations in the Gaza Strip, he continued. The rate of house demolitions was unprecedented: an average of 45 people a day were made homeless. The rate of fatalities in Gaza was even more astounding: Israeli forces killed an average of 60 per month in Gaza. Describing the largest incursion, he said that during the “Days of Penitence” operation between 28 September and 15 October, 107 people were killed and nearly 200 homes were destroyed. The incursion followed rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip which killed a number of Israeli civilians, three of whom were children. He doubted anyone would deny that such indiscriminate and disproportionate destruction and disregard for life constituted grave violations of humanitarian law.

He said incursions, house demolitions, air strikes and extrajudicial killings had continued. In the last two weeks, an additional 41 people had been killed, 132 injured and 378 people had been rendered homeless. It was ironic that those lives and communities had to be rebuilt and that the international community would bear the material costs. The UNWRA simply could not keep up. The Government of Israel did not respond to claims.

The UNWRA remained under considerable financial constraint. The Emergency Programme had received pledges for only 45 per cent of its budget. The Agency had launched two initiatives to increase voluntary contributions. One was giving a strong, new thrust to fund-raising efforts in the Arab world. Another was the process of establishing two country-support groups, one in Spain and one in the United States. On 7 and 8 June, a large international conference had been held in Geneva to strengthen the Agency’s partnership with stakeholders. Rather than a one-time event, the Geneva conference represented the beginning of a dynamic process that could only lead to improvements in UNWRA’s effectiveness.

Giving examples of how the Agency continued to face severe operational obstacles in carrying out its humanitarian mandate in the occupied territories, he said the future for UNWRA and for the Palestine refugees, particularly those in the Gaza Strip, was uncertain. He feared that the proposed disengagement by Israel from the Gaza Strip would not be accompanied by a radical easing of movement for both people and goods, would exacerbate economic stagnation, and that the donor community would continue to bear the burden of the humanitarian crisis. Operational and programme constraints were at an all-time high.

On top of that, he said, UNWRA had been coping with a series of unfortunate and unfair accusations by the Israel Defence Forces and Israeli Government officials, culminating in the demand that he should withdraw from his post. “I do not wish to dwell on the details, but simply ask that we all move forward in a productive manner that benefits all people of the region”, he said. “I hope that any further concerns the Government of Israel may have will be dealt with between us, rather than through campaigns in the press.” The tasks were enormous and energies needed to be devoted to overcoming difficulties, not creating them.

HANS JACOB FRYDENLUND (Norway), Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA, introduced that body’s report as contained in document A/59/442. He called for the early and complete fulfilment of pledges and other commitments to UNWRA in order to address all aspects of the Agency’s financial needs, in particular the reimbursement of value-added tax and port charges by the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government. The Working Group expressed alarm at the continuing negative effect of successive austerity measures adopted in previous years. The Group was also concerned that the discontinuation of former regular budget allocations such as university scholarships and rehabilitation of shelters had reduced the Agency’s activities in those areas.

He said the Working Group appealed to the international community to do its utmost to meet the emergency appeal’s requirement of $209 million for 2004 as soon as possible. Since 30 September, merely $89 million had been pledged. The problems faced by the refugees today were humanitarian problems that must be addressed as a shared international responsibility. The services provided by UNWRA must be viewed as the minimum required to enable the refugees to lead productive lives. He, therefore, strongly urged all governments to start, or to continue, making contributions to UNWRA, and to consider making special contributions sufficient to cover the deficit and build up working capital.

Statements

FEDA ABDELHADY NASSER, of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine, said the plight of the Palestine refugees continued to be as critical an issue today as it had ever been, and UNRWA’s assistance continued to be crucial in alleviating their suffering. As Israel continued to harm, dispossess and displace the refugees, UNRWA’s emergency medical, housing and food assistance had been vital for their basic survival.

She reaffirmed the right of Palestine refugees to return, which was a universal right that could not be altered by time. She said that Israel should also recognize Palestinian ownership of land; restitution or fair compensation for that land must be part of any final settlement of the refugee problem. She reiterated that the Israeli-American exchange of letters of 14 April this year, which aimed at circumventing international law and unilaterally deciding the future of the refugees, could not alter the objectives of the peace process or the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.

Commending the Commissioner-General’s report, she described UNRWA’s extensive assistance to the refugees, saying that, despite such aid, the socio-economic conditions of the refugees remained difficult; they continued to face serious challenges and threats to their well-being, particularly as a result of ongoing military attacks and the continuing imposition of severe restrictions on movement. She described practices that she said were unlawful, that had directly affected the work of UNWRA, and that had killed and wounded hundreds of people, including women, children and UNRWA staff.

She said that all such actions by the occupying Power against UNRWA and the refugees were against international law, and that Israel’s attacks against the Agency’s reputation had been replete with fabrications aimed at undermining UNRWA. She reaffirmed that UNRWA was entitled -– under law -– to carry out its mandate free from harassment, intimidation, obstruction and destruction. She said that Israel should immediately lift all restrictions on the movement of the Agency’s staff and supplies, ensure their safety, and compensate the Agency for any damage caused to its property.

She expressed appreciation to countries that had hosted Palestinian refugees and encouraged their continued cooperation with UNRWA. She expressed appreciation for the international community’s financial support to the Agency, and urged an increase in such support pending a just and lasting resolution of the refugee problem.

IBRAHIM ASSAF (Lebanon) said the issue of Palestinian refugees was not only a humanitarian issues but also a political and juridical one, linked to the occupation and to international peace and security. The refugee question was also linked to principles of international law, in particular principles of justice and equity. Today, there were 4 million refugees, a third of them living in camps that depended on UNRWA. In contrast, there were 400,000 Israeli settlers living in the occupied territories. Where was the justice in that? he asked.

He said that to Lebanon the question of Palestinian refugees in his country was one of prime importance. His country attached great importance to the principle of the return of refugees to their homes, because the refugees themselves refused to remain in Lebanon indefinitely. Also, if Palestinian refugees were to remain in Lebanon indefinitely, the cost would be too heavy a burden for the State and the make-up of the population would be changed. He stressed that UNRWA’s work remained a temporary activity. Only through Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and return of refugees could peace be guaranteed.

ABDULLA MOHAMMED ABOOD AL NAQBI (United Arab Emirates), thanking the Commissioner-General for his efforts, expressed serious concern regarding the deteriorated humanitarian and social conditions of the Palestinian refugees, especially those living in the occupied territories who, he said, were subject to aggressive and hostile Israeli policies. He reiterated that a just and comprehensive outcome of the Palestinian cause must be based on unconditional repatriation of the refugees to their homeland, along with compensation for their losses. He reaffirmed the responsibility of the international community in bringing about that outcome.

He condemned Israeli actions that he said were in violation of international law, calling for the Security Council to adopt measures that could stop Israeli attacks against Palestinian refugee camps and ensure the security of UNRWA staff. Conditions for UNRWA local staff must also be improved, and their wages increased, including hazard pay. Noting the decline in the Agency’s financial resources, he said his country would continue to provide support, and he urged donors to double their contributions in order to meet the urgent needs of the Palestinian refugees.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria), also expressing appreciation to Mr. Hansen, the rest of the UNRWA staff and donors, said there was still no glimmer of hope for the Palestinian refugees. Israel was, in fact, escalating its brutal campaign against civilians and increasing the suffering of those refugees. It had also attacked the facilities and staff of UNRWA, among many brutal policies described in the UNRWA report.

Syria supported the refugees within its border and cooperated with UNRWA to provide them with services. The responsibility for the refugee problem was an international one; UNRWA’s base of contributors should be expanded. The UNRWA should work to improve the condition of the refugees in a way that did not diminish their rights to return. In addition, the refugees and host countries should not be forced to face negative consequences due to the budgetary shortfalls. Considering the difficulties they faced, he also hoped that UNRWA local staff would be treated equitably. In conclusion, he said that the international community should pressure Israel to return to the path of peace to bring about a just solution to the refugee problem.

HARON HASSAN (Jordan) said his country had hosted Palestinian refugees since 1948 and, as a result of the deteriorating services of UNRWA, because of its financial crisis, provided services to them. The issue of Palestinian refugees must be dealt with as a whole, without discrimination between Palestinian refugees related to the country where they lived or on their living conditions. The UNRWA must continue its work until a just and final settlement of the refugee problem had been implemented. In that regard, he hoped the UNRWA mandate would be extended and that the necessary resources for the Agency’s mid-term plan could be provided.

He said Israel continued its aggression against the Palestinian people, violating international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, in all occupied territories. Israeli practices were solely aimed at destroying Palestinian society and avoiding the principle of a PalestinianState. The Israeli Government must fully cease all operations of violence, including destroying the Palestinian infrastructure and houses, and stop extrajudicial killings and collective punishments. The Road Map must be respected and implemented by the two parties. Furthermore, Israel must facilitate the work of UNRWA staff in the Palestinian territories.

AHMED ABU ZEID (Egypt) said the refugee problem could not be addressed without evaluating the conditions in the Middle East, particularly the deteriorating conditions in the territories over the last four years. Regrettably, the suffering of the Palestinian people was growing — especially for women, children and elderly — with the growing intensity of the Israeli military operations, including closings, curfews and establishment of military zones. Those actions worsened the situation of the Palestinian inhabitants every day and prevented UNRWA from fulfilling its noble tasks.

He said any Israeli disengagement from Gaza should be part of Israel’s implementation of the Road Map. It must, therefore, be a complete and comprehensive withdrawal, followed by similar withdrawals from the West Bank. Israel must also abide by the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice concerning the construction of the separation wall. The declining resources available to the Agency were a matter of grave concern. He urged the international community to shoulder its responsibilities towards the deteriorating conditions in the occupied territories and the refugee camps in other countries. Continued violence hampered the efforts of international and regional parties to overcome the current impasse in the peace process and to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people.

KAIS KABTANI (Tunisia) expressed appreciation to Mr. Hansen and UNRWA, as well as donor and host countries, for their efforts on behalf of Palestinian refugees. He said UNRWA must be adequately supported until a just and lasting solution to the Palestinian question had been found. Israel’s policies had created a humanitarian catastrophe and were making UNRWA’s work increasingly difficult. He denounced those policies and called for all restrictions on UNRWA staff to be lifted.

Any just and lasting peace must take into account all the rights of the Palestinian refugees, he said, including their right of return and their right to their property. Only then would such a peace be able to become the basis of security and stability in the region.

ANDREA SEMADENI (Switzerland) said UNWRA was working in an extremely difficult political context. The economic, social and humanitarian situation, after four years of armed confrontations, was a matter of great concern. The situation was the result of numerous factors, among which violations of international humanitarian law must be mentioned. The crisis was caused by the many obstacles to the freedom of movement, curfews, demolition of houses and infrastructure and by military incursions and operations in connection with extrajudicial executions by the Israeli army. Israel’s right to protect against terrorist attacks, which nothing could justify, was not disputed. Nevertheless, all measures that were taken must be in compliance with international humanitarian law.

He said UNWRA was confronted with many operational challenges. Access was often made difficult or denied. UNWRA installations should be treated as protected locations. He urged the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to respect the Fourth Geneva convention. The occupying Power must guarantee that humanitarian organizations, including UNWRA, could visit the populations of the Palestinian occupied territory safely and without restrictions. The UNWRA must also be given the necessary resources to fulfil its mandate. The Geneva Conference, jointly organized by UNWRA and Switzerland, had identified many areas in which a tripartite partnership between donors, host countries and UNWRA could speed up the Agency’s interventions, as well as the usefulness and effectiveness of its activities for the benefit of refugees.

CESTINO MIGLIORE, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, expressed appreciation for the work of UNRWA. He said the content of the Agency’s report was all too familiar: the delivery of human services amid an unending cycle of violence and terrorism, military action and reaction, all of which represented an unending series of retaliations. The services supplied by UNRWA, the Pontifical Mission for Palestine and many other agencies should normally be the responsibility of local authorities. But pending the return of the parties to the negotiating table, such aid must continue.

He said he was keenly aware of UNRWA’s difficulties in delivering meaningful services to the refugees so adversely affected by the current “undeclared war”. He said that any solution to the overall problem should include guarantees of religious freedom and unhindered access to the holy places in Jerusalem, with the acknowledgement that the city was the common patrimony of the believing world. The family of nations must, he said, challenge all the parties to renew their efforts to bring peace to the region. Only a negotiated, just and lasting peace would fulfil the aspirations of all the peoples of the land. He called for the parties to move courageously to new attitudes of just compromise.

YUSSEF KANAAN, of the Office of the Permanent Observer for the Organization of the Islamic Conference, expressed his gratitude to the Commissioner-General for his work and described a deterioration of conditions for the Palestinian people caused by Israeli actions, including the deaths of children, the destruction of shelter, and the effects of the separation wall. He commended UNRWA for its Jenin Rehabilitation Project and its agreement to cooperate with other organizations to replace homes destroyed in the Gaza Strip.

He said that, considering the adversities described in the UNRWA report and the indispensable role played by the Agency, he unhesitatingly called upon the international community to continue the support of UNRWA’s work by contributing generously to its budget and emergency relief programmes. In that regard, he expressed hope that commitments made in Geneva would be materialize soon and that the fundraising post established in Abu Dhabi would have the desired results among donors in the Arab world. He also welcomed the creation of a $25 million fund aimed at providing direct assistance to people in Gaza following Israeli incursions there. In closing, he reiterated the continuing responsibility of UNRWA towards Palestinians pending the establishment of their State, calling also for Israel to be compelled to return to the negotiating table towards that end.

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