20 November 2006 – The United Nations agency caring for Palestinian refugees has issued an urgent appeal for nearly $2.5 million to ease the “humanitarian disaster” caused by Israel’s assault on the town of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip, which left 82 Palestinians dead, including 39 women and children, 260 wounded and “more wanton destruction” earlier this month.
“I fully recognize the right and responsibility of Israel to protect its citizens, and its legitimate concern about the home-made rockets fired from Gaza,” UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd said yesterday.
“But for humanitarian agencies such as UNRWA it is becoming increasingly difficult to deal with the aftermath of such military operations without questioning their justification, their proportionality and their effects.”
She stressed that last year’s optimistic predictions after the disengagement of Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip, are already a distant memory. “They only serve to provide a cruel contrast between the hopes, then, that 2006 would prove to be a better year for the Palestine refugees, and the harsh reality with which they have since been confronted,” she said.
“The staggering decline of the economy and of the physical, humanitarian and social conditions in Gaza are, alas, not a recent phenomenon,” she added, referring to the downturn that started with the present Palestinian intifadah (uprising) in 2000, when over 100,000 Palestinians lost their livelihoods because of the impossibility to work in Israel.
“It continued with major military operations in many of the cities of the Gaza Strip, the large-scale destruction of houses, agricultural land, and infrastructure. It worsened dramatically with the sanctions regime imposed upon the Palestinian Authority following the results of the Palestinian Legislative Council elections earlier this year, when both foreign economic aid and Palestinian public income were summarily withheld,” she said.
After the election victory of Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction, Israel stopped handing over tax and customs revenues it collects on behalf of the Authority and international donors suspended direct aid, calling on Hamas to commit to non-violence, recognize Israel and accept previously signed agreements.
“The tragic events in Beit Hanoun have provided the clearest proof yet that the vicious circle of violence must be brought to an end,” Ms. AbuZayd said, noting that UNRWA stepped in immediately with a rapid response programme, providing water, food, medical aid and shelter. “We now face the challenge of repairing damages to over 1,000 houses and shelters, meanwhile ensuring that the distressed homeless refugees have a roof over their heads. UNRWA cannot undertake this additional task without your support,” she added, addressing donors.
In a related development, the agency reported that two children were shot and wounded inside its Beit Lahia Elementary School in the northern Gaza Strip by bullets coming school from the north where Israeli tanks were seen stationed on a hill.
Condemning the shootings, UNRWA’s Gaza Field Director John Ging described it as “yet another tragic incident in what has become a bewildering cycle of violence.