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8 September 2004 – The main United Nations agency helping Palestinian refugees today handed over 103 new shelters in Rafah in the Gaza Strip for families whose homes have been demolished during the latest uprising against Israel, but the ceremony planned for the event had to be postponed due to ongoing Israeli military operations.
The Israeli military has cut the Strip into three, cutting off access to Rafah, and operations in the north of Gaza prevented UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Peter Hansen from re-entering the area for the planned ceremony.
The new homes are the realization of an UNRWA pledge to provide shelter for all refugees made homeless by the conflict which has raged since September 2000. According to Agency workers, more than 2,500 buildings housing nearly 24,000 people have been demolished or damaged beyond repair.
“The fact that very nearly 25,000 people have now lost their homes in Gaza and a further 4,000 in the West bank is testimony to a very real and very widespread suffering over the last four years,” Mr. Hansen said.
“That UNRWA can build a 1,300-place school almost entirely for children who have witnessed their own homes being destroyed is a terrible testimony to the scale of the demolitions,” he added, noting that most demolitions occur after reporters and camera crews have left, “witnessed only by those who have been left destitute” and those who help them.
The $2.6-million project was funded by donations from Norway, Italy and the United States. UNRWA has now built a total of 477 new homes in the Gaza Strip and work is currently proceeding on 300 more. But the agency still needs more than $42 million in donations to meet the needs of Gaza’s homeless. Nearly 1,800 new homes are needed and every day brings fresh demolitions.