Geneva press briefing
Occupied Palestinian Territories
Matthias Burchard, Chief of the Liaison Office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Geneva, said the Israeli military had withdrawn from Rafah to the border. However, UNRWA feared that the present quiet was only a pause to reorganize, and that soon the Israeli offensive would resume. The pause was also possibly to give time for the burial of the 43 persons who had been killed in the recent campaign. The widening of the Philadelphia line was still an Israeli objective. Depending on how much it would be widened, between 400 to 2,000 homes could be destroyed. From 18 to 23 May, Israel’s operation “Rainbow” had destroyed 45 buildings and made 575 people homeless. This raised the number of destroyed houses in Rafah to 1,354 since October 2000, making 13,175 persons homeless. UNRWA was presently taking care of 2,000 people who had fled the fighting. Together with the Palestinian Ministry of Health, UNRWA was actively and prominently involved with organizing the emergency response in Rafah of all the humanitarian relief organizations and non-governmental organizations.
On 28 May, Peter Hansen, Commissioner General of UNRWA, would present to the international donor community in Jerusalem a special flash emergency appeal for Gaza and specifically for Rafah.
The Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories would be visiting Lebanon from 25 to 28 May, Egypt from 28 May to 4 June and Syria from 4 to 8 June 2004. Since its establishment in December 1968, the Special Committee had repeatedly been denied cooperation by the Government of Israel and access to the Occupied Territories. The Special Committee reported to the General Assembly and it would be submitting its latest report when the Assembly met later this year. A press release would be issued on its mission shortly.
Asked if the OHCHR team would be going to Iraq or to the Middle East, Mr. Díaz said that the team should be arriving in the region today. He would not give any details on their visit. The team was not in Iraq, but a visit to that country was still a possibility, including by the acting High Commissioner.
Mr. Redmond said that in Iraq, 26 Palestinians who fled Iraq last year during the conflict left UNHCR’s Ruweished camp in Jordan’s eastern desert last week to go back to Baghdad. The Palestinians felt that they would be better off in Iraq despite the current insecurity and uncertainty.