Marie Heuzé, the Director of the United Nations Information Service at Geneva, chaired the briefing which was attended by Matthias Burchard (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East); Elizabeth Byrs (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs); Christiane Berthiaume (World Food Programme); Jennifer Pagonis (Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees); Fadéla Chaib (World Health Organization); Corinne Perthuis (International Labour Office); Samar Shamoon (World Intellectual Property Organization); and Niurka Pineiro (International Organization for Migration).
Subjects raised included ongoing activities in Geneva; the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories, in Haiti and Darfur; and various other interventions.
Matthias Burchard, Chief of the Liaison Office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said that UNRWA expressed its deepest sorrow at the death of Raghda Adnan Al-Assar, 10 years old, who died on 22 September. Raghda had been an UNRWA pupil and had been shot on 7 September by Israeli Defense Forces while sitting at her desk at the UNRWA school in Khan Younis. UNRWA expressed its strongest protest against the almost routine IDF shootings at known UNRWA installations in the Gaza Strip. Shooting children in school was wrong per ce, and when carried out by the IDF in Gaza, was also a direct violation of the Government of Israel’s obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. Moreover, it was a violation of the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations and other agreements. UNRWA strong called on Israel to respect its obligations. There had been so many routine shootings by the IDF at UNRWA schools and other facilities.
Mr. Burchard said that UNRWA also strongly protested the increased and continuous subjection of UNRWA to severe movement restrictions within the Gaza Strip. International staff members holding valid UN laissez-passer papers were now obliged to cross on foot through the Palestinian labour terminals. Only those holding diplomatic visas could cross using their vehicles and even they were prohibited from carrying UN colleagues with them. This had resulted effectively in stopping any crossings of UN international staff going in and out of Gaza. Just yesterday, the Commissioner-General had had to wait for four hours to get into the Gaza Strip, and today, the authorities had not given clear indications if he could leave for a meeting he had planned in Amman tomorrow. UNRWA also faced continuous restrictions on the import of containers carrying food aid. Usually, UNRWA brought in 25 containers a day to ensure enough food was distributed to about 700,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. But due to security restrictions, UNRWA was only able to bring in 10 to 12 containers and it had a huge back load. UNRWA again called on Israel in the strongest terms to remedy this situation. UNRWA came to journalists publicly today because this was the agency’s last resort as it had been trying desperately to resolve issues with Israel directly. UNRWA had been writing letters and meeting officials with no results, and that was why it had come to journalists today.
The Director said the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development had asked her to remind journalists of two UNCTAD press briefings this week, the first was at 11:30 a.m. today in Salle III on the launch of the report on economic development in Africa. The second would be held at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, 29 September, in press room 1 on the UNCTAD annual report on assistance to the Palestinian People.