Humanitarian operations by UNRWA continued through May and June despite closures and curfews that severely hindered access to refugee camps and other Palestinian communities. Operation Defensive Shield, the Israeli military offensive in the West Bank that started on 29 March, was declared completed in early May.
While UNRWA was weighing growing humanitarian needs and the costs of reconstruction associated with the events of March and April during this reporting period, fresh military activities continued to result in injury, loss of life and extensive damage to property. The regime of closures imposed upon Palestinian communities - the strictest in the history of the Intifada - affected livelihoods, economic activity, and nearly all aspects of everyday life for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
The prolonged confinement by Israeli forces of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to his headquarters in Ramallah ended on 1 May, after accommodation was reached over several Palestinian prisoners sought by Israel. In the West Bank, Israeli forces remained in position in Bethlehem while an agreement was brokered, with international mediation, to end their siege of Palestinian militants seeking sanctuary at the Church of the Nativity.
Curfews continued for residents of Bethlehem, the town of Tulkarm, Tulkarm and Kalandia refugee camps, and the villages of Deir al-Ghusun, Attil, Zeita, Faroun, Irtah, Shweikeh, Jarusheih, Shufeh, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Artas and Al-Khader.
On 5 May, Israeli troops entered Tulkarm, the Askar refugee camp and the villages of Ibween, Jayyous and Rummaneh. On 10 May, the 39-day siege at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem ended, with 13 Palestinian militants sent into exile abroad, initially to Cyprus. After lasting more than a month, curfews on the inhabitants of Bethlehem and the neighbouring town of Beit Jala were then lifted.
Israeli military incursions into Palestinian population centres in the West Bank continued throughout May, involving house-to-house searches and arrests. In the course of the month, Israeli forces made 36 incursions into cities, villages and refugee camps. UNRWA recorded 12 separate incursions into the town of Tulkarm and the adjacent Tulkarm and Nurshams refugee camps.
Most of these incursions were brief and Israeli forces withdrew in a matter of hours. On four occasions, however, troops occupied cities and camps for more than a day. Violence by Palestinian militants against Israelis also continued, including suicide bomb-attacks against civilian targets on 7 May at Rishon Letzion, 19 May at Netanya, 22 May at Rishon Letzion and 27 May at Petah Tikvah.
Violence in the West Bank continued through June, even as the Israeli Government began construction of what is planned eventually to be a 110-kilometre fence in the vicinity of Jenin, to separate Palestinian population centres in the occupied Palestinian Territory in the north of the West Bank from Israel. After a Palestinian suicide attack in Israel on the morning of 5 June, Israeli helicopters fired on Jenin and the next day tanks destroyed Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah.
On 10 June, Israeli forces again raided Ramallah, Tulkarm and Qalqilya. That morning, while students were in their classrooms, the girls' school in the Tulkarm camp came under fire from Israeli tanks. The exterior of the building was badly damaged and a fourth-floor classroom riddled with bullets. Three days later, UNRWA's Area Education Office in Ramallah was heavily damaged. Tanks knocked down the boundary wall on two sides of the property.
On 18 June, after a further suicide bomb attack in Jerusalem, the Israel Government stated it would retake and hold territory in the West Bank that had been transferred to the Palestinian Authority. Israeli forces again moved into Jenin and the adjacent refugee camp. Israeli troops used the boys' school in the camp as a detention centre, and all male residents of the camp between the ages of 15 and 50 were rounded up there for interrogation. After a further suicide attack in Jerusalem on 19 June, Israeli tanks entered Ramallah. By the end of June, Israeli forces were occupying seven major cities in the West Bank and more than 600,000 Palestinians were living under curfew.
UNRWA operations were severely affected throughout the period under review, and scores of UNRWA personnel were prevented from reaching their workplaces. During May, of the 386 personnel requiring Israeli permits to enter Jerusalem from the West Bank, only one received a permit, and only 20 of the 103 staff members in UNRWA's Field Procurement and Logistics Department were able to report to work. UNRWA operations in the West Bank were assisted by 12 volunteers from the Swedish Rescue Services Agency, paid for by the Swedish Government. They aided in the transport of foodstuffs, medicines and other supplies, and in maintaining UNRWA's fleet of vehicles.
In the Gaza Strip, internal closures remained in place throughout the period under review, but became less severe with the re-opening of the Netzarim coastal road on 3 May. However, the southern area of the Gaza Strip remained isolated by roadblocks at Abu Houli/Gush Katif. During May, these were lifted for approximately three hours per day, but at short notice and at irregular times. From mid-June, the roadblocks were lifted for longer and more regular intervals than at any time since March. Despite this, persons seeking to cross faced frequent lengthy delays, or having crossed were unable to return home when the road was closed in the afternoon or evening.
The Palestinian areas between the Israeli settlements of Dugit and Eli Sinai in the north of the Gaza Strip, and at Al-Mawasi in the south, remained under night curfews throughout the period under review, these measures having been imposed since 9 July 2001 and 12 December 2001 respectively. Between 12 and 18 May a round-the-clock curfew was imposed at Al-Mawasi, following the killing of an Israeli at Rafiah Yam settlement. The Toufah and Tel es-Sultan checkpoints were re-opened on 12 June for women and 16 June for men. The Israelis have now issued all residents of Al-Mawasi between 16 and 50 years of age with magnetic identity cards. Their exit or re-entry to Al-Mawasi during daylight hours is subject to Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) approval. Further curfews were imposed on Palestinian areas close to the Israeli settlement of Netzarim from 26 June, and the Karni-Netzarim road from 28 June.
Over the reporting period there was an increase in the number of armed clashes reported in the Gaza Strip, although at a comparatively lower level of intensity than those that had taken place previously in the West Bank. There was a general easing of tension when the Israeli military offensives of March and April in the West Bank were not repeated in Gaza, as had been anticipated. Altogether, 196 clashes were reported during May in the Gaza Strip, and 193 during June, the majority occurring near Israeli settlements or close to the Egyptian border at Rafah. Sixty-six home-made mortar attacks against Israeli settlements were reported during May and a similar number during June. Israeli forces mounted 58 incursions into Palestinian areas during May and a further 38 during June. Israeli house demolition activities in the Gaza Strip also continued. During May, 14 dwellings housing 28 families were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. During June, a further 17 dwellings housing 24 families, all of them refugee families, were likewise rendered unusable.
The effects of clashes around the border and settlements of the Gaza Strip, together with internal separations and closures, continued to have a serious impact on economic conditions. UNRWA's Microfinance and Microenterprise Programme (MMP) provides some indicators of the aggregate effect on economic activity in the Gaza Strip. Most of the programme's clients reportedly suffered from slow and more costly delivery of supplies and raw materials, while order books and sales remained low. In May the programme provided just 292 loans with a total value of USD 170,700 (see chart below), one third by volume of loans provided in September 2000, and down to only 20 per cent of the previous level. It was predicted that the programme would maintain a low level of performance until closures are eased.
In the aftermath of events in March and April, UNRWA faced unprecedented difficulties of access and growing emergency needs, especially for shelter. UNRWA's emergency appeal requirements for the year were re-assessed.
At the end of June, UNRWA released a Supplementary Appeal for an additional USD 55.7 million dollars2. The largest items in this appeal related to relief and reconstruction needs at Jenin camp. These requirements being additional to the USD 117 million described under the initial 2002 appeal, at the end of June UNRWA's combined emergency appeal requirements for 2002 stood at over USD 172 million. As of 30 June, confirmed cash and in-kind pledges to the 2002 Emergency Appeal had reached USD 53.5 million (approximately 31 per cent of combined appeal requirements), of which only USD 20.6 million had been received (approximately 12 per cent of combined requirements).
1Impact of the Israeli Measures on the Economic Conditions of Palestinian Households on the Eve of Israeli Incursion (4th Round: January - February 2002) - Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, April 2002: http://www.pcbs.org
2 The full appeal is available here.
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