UNRWA calls on Israel to lift restrictions and ensure safety of staff in the Gaza Strip

Palestinian workers in Gaza at Erez crossing (Photo: Marianne Van De Goorberg)

The latest large-scale military operations initiated by the Israeli Army have once again severely disrupted the operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The Agency has reminded the Government of Israel of its obligations under international law, including bilateral agreements it has entered into with UNRWA and calls on it once again to restore the freedom of movement of Agency staff and guarantee their safety at all times.

The military operations undertaken by the Israeli Army have in effect tri-sected the Gaza Strip. UNRWA has been forced to suspend many of its normal operations, including the resumption of much needed emergency food aid. Following their humanitarian calling, the Agency’s health centres are attending the incoming casualties, thereby exposing critical staff to considerable risk.

Moreover, over 750 staff members, including nursing mothers, have not been able to return to their homes since 28 September. The same is true of the approximately 400 trainees of the Gaza Training Centre. The restrictions on movement further obstruct the work of the Agency’s staff entrusted with supervising operations in the field of education and health.

In effect, these restrictions also barred the Commissioner-General of UNRWA from attending the annual meeting of the Agency’s Advisory Commission. This unprecedented event was caused by the unwillingness of the Israeli authorities to enable him to cross safely into Israel to travel to the meeting’s venue in Amman, Jordan.

Mr Peter Hansen, Commissioner General of UNRWA, said: “to my knowledge this is the first time a member state of the United Nations has in effect prevented the Executive Head of a UN agency to meet with its statutory advisory body. The conditions under which my staff are working expose them to unacceptable levels of risk. For UNRWA to continue to deliver essential services to the refugees, the Government of Israel must live up to its obligations under international law. It is crucial that it ensure both our freedom of movement and our safety”.