5 December 2002
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) today lodged a formal protest with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs against a new travel restriction imposed on international staff in the Gaza Strip.
The Agency was reacting to Israel’s decision that, starting today, vehicles entering the country from Gaza must carry two or more international staff members travelling together. Single occupancy vehicles, with the exception of a small number of high-ranking diplomats, are banned from crossing into Israel until further notice.
“UNRWA, which has a team of only three international staff drivers for the whole of the West Bank and Gaza, will find its operations severely curtailed by this order,” UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told the press in New York.
Even the Agency’s diplomatic pouch will be prevented from leaving Gaza without two drivers, while simple staff meetings and other basic communications between its operations in the West Bank and Gaza will be greatly impeded, he added.
Asked about Israel’s reasons for the new measures, Mr. Eckhard said the country knew best why it was taking its own actions. “But,” he added, “they conflict so directly with the humanitarian work that the UN is trying to do that we have issued this protest.”
The spokesman also noted that the restrictions apply not only to UNRWA but to all UN agencies working in the Gaza Strip.