During July, both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government undertook steps towards the implementation of the Quartet's Roadmap for peace, leading to cautious optimism about the future of the diplomatic process. Following the April accession of Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinian prime minister, and the June announcement of a truce by several Palestinian factions, Israeli forces redeployed away from Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem in the West Bank. Israeli forces were only partially successful in removing Jewish settlers from a number of "illegal" outposts in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). The Israeli government released some 350 Palestinian prisoners - out of a total of 6,000 held.
Israel continued the construction of the separation barrier (also referred to as the "wall") in the West Bank, announcing the completion of the first 145-kilometre span -- traversing the Jenin, Tulkarm and Qalqilia governorates - on 31 July. The barrier is already having adverse impacts on the local Palestinian population. These people have lost agricultural land to the barrier itself and often cannot access their land and water sources now isolated on the other side of the barrier. The first section of the wall will negatively affect over 200,000 Palestinians, including approximately 15,000 refugee families according to UNRWA's estimates, approximately 30 percent of the households affected by the construction. Israeli forces have begun the construction of an "envelope" wall that will cut off Jerusalem from the West Bank. UNRWA is concerned that refugees might no longer be able to reach hospitals in Jerusalem, where it arranges for their treatment. Students might be forced to transfer from UNRWA schools in neighbourhoods such as Sur Bahir, which lie in the proposed path of the wall.
Israeli military activity presented several obstacles to UNRWA in implementing its emergency programmes and jeopardised the safety of staff members and refugees alike. Among the 34 Palestinians killed in Gaza during the period, two were UNRWA school children. The killing of one of the founders of Hamas, Ismail Abu Shanab, occurred within 100 meters of UNRWA's Gaza Headquarters the day after the truck bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad. On 24 September, Israeli army troops forcibly entered UNRWA's Qalqilia Hospital. Staff and patients were ordered to sit on the floor with their hands in the air while soldiers searched the premises, room by room, forcing open locked doors and in some cases shooting the locks off. Shots were fired into walls and equipment causing thousands of dollars in damage.
On 8 August, Israeli troops killed two Hamas activists and two civilians in the Askar refugee camp outside of Nablus, and within a week a senior ranking member of Islamic Jihad in Hebron. There followed a spate of Palestinian suicide attacks: two on 12 August and a third on 19 August, in which 23 people were killed in an explosion aboard a bus in Jerusalem.
Israel called off contacts with the Palestinian Authority, and the next day Israeli helicopters assassinated Abu Shanab. The 50-day cease-fire was over. On 6 September, after only four months in office, the Palestinian Prime Minister submitted his resignation. Later the same day, Israel attempted to kill Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, with an F-16-dropped 500lb bomb in Gaza City. Four days later, following suicide attacks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in which 15 Israelis lost their lives, the Israeli air force attempted, but failed to kill Dr. Mahmoud Zahhar, co-founder of Hamas. On 26 September, the Quartet issued a statement calling on the Israeli Government to '"take no action undermining trust, including deportations, confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property, destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure..."' According to Agency assessments, between 1 and 20 October Israeli forces had destroyed 189 houses in Rafah Camp in southern Gaza, leaving 330 families homeless (1,780 individual refugees). UNRWA estimates the cost of the damage in the camp at $9.5 million.
Emergency Employment Creation
UNRWA’s Emergency Employment Creation Programme is one of the most effective means of addressing the problems of widespread unemployment and deepening poverty in the oPt. Given the range and scale of UNRWA’s services through this programme, it is able to stimulate the depressed economy through the creation of job opportunities. At the same time, with larger numbers of employees UNRWA is able to maintain the levels of services needed to meet mounting needs. Through indirect hiring, the Agency creates job opportunities while improving the physical infrastructure of its installations including the paving of roads, building of shelters and expansion of schools.
a. Direct hire
Between July and September, UNRWA hired 5,427 people through its direct hire programme. A total of 1,276 were hired in the West Bank and 4,151 in the Gaza Strip. These workers were hired for 372,433 job days. Direct hire includes a range of professional and support posts throughout UNRWA installations: for instance, teachers in schools, medical staff in health centres, and administrative and support staff in field offices and headquarters. Insufficient funding has forced UNRWA to gradually curtail the number of employees in temporary positions in the West Bank. The number has fallen from 1,616 in the first quarter to 1,369 in the second and to 1,276 in the third. There has not been a similar drop in the number of employees hired in the Gaza Strip. To sustain the programme, however, the Gaza Field Office has had to forego expenditure on construction and maintenance projects that would have generated job opportunities for skilled workers in the building trades and unskilled labourers.