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UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · Geneva


PB/02/04/09
9 April 2002

Geneva press briefing

REGULAR PRESS BRIEFING BY THE INFORMATION SERVICE

Marie Heuzé, Director of the Information Service, briefed journalists about the Secretary-General's current itinerary, including his visit to Geneva; two landmarks in international law- the coming into force the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism; forthcoming press conferences and available documents. The Middle East again took prominence since the Head of the UNRWA liaison office at Geneva gave an update on the latest situation in the occupied territories, as did the other humanitarian agencies.

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MIDDLE EAST

UNRWA

The Chief of the UNRWA Liaison Office in Geneva updated the press about the developments in the Palestinian territories since the radio briefing given last Friday to the press corps by UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen. He stated that the weekend had probably been the "worst in recent history in the region". The attacks on the cities of Nablus and Jenin were " unprecedented." Both cities had been completely cordoned off as closed military zones and humanitarian access was impossible to the flashpoints over the weekend for deliveries of food, medical goods, blood or oxygen.

Nor could ambulances get through. On Friday, he had mentioned the incident of an ambulance carrying a newborn baby requiring oxygen. The ambulance was blocked outside the Dheisheh refugee camp for over two hours and the baby consequently died. Yesterday, UNRWA had tried to get an ambulance to a patient who was wounded and bleeding to death in Balata refugee camp in Jenin. An UNRWA ambulance could pass but was shot at and partially destroyed; the patient was administered unchecked blood due to the impossibility of conducting lab tests on donors under the circumstances.

The press was barred from the area but UNRWA staff were inside the camps and cities and were communicating with the programme. Mr. Hansen had made a statement to "end the horror in the camps". There were reports of over 100 bodies lying in the streets of Jenin but UNRWA's mobile health assistance, medical centres, hospitals were not operating. Schools were closed and yet again an UNRWA staff member, a doctor, had been arrested in Bethlehem, where the IDF had taken over an UNRWA school and a clinic as military posts. The Secretary-General would soon make a statement on the situation in the Middle East, said the head of UNRWA 's Geneva office.

Although military withdrawals were underway in Tulkarim and Qalqilya incursions were taking place in the town of Dura, south of Hebron. Fierce fighting continued in Jenin but this morning UNRWA had been apprised of a temporary lifting of the curfew and a lull in firing. UNRWA had begun to transport 76 tons of supplies- blood, oxygen and food - to Jenin and Nablus, where they hoped they could enter. Roadblocks were being dismantled north of Hebron, although it was believed that the reason was probably to facilitate the movement of tanks rather than a positive development of the situation.

Asked whether outbreaks of diseases were evident because of the decaying bodies, the UNRWA official replied that so far this was not the case. A journalist questioned him about reports that no safe drinking water could be found. He stated that the destruction of the water infrastructure meant that drinking water was totally lacking.

Regarding the donations received, he reiterated that UNRWA had launched an appeal for 2000 for the sum of 120 million USD. However, that did not include the damage that had taken place since the onslaught of the last few weeks to shelters, UNRWA infrastructure and vehicles. That alone amounted to 4 million USD. Offers for financial and in-kind assistance had been forthcoming, however, from donors, private individuals and international civil servants, such as the UNOG staff association. Finally, on a query concerning the number of people held in a state of siege, he replied that 15,000 people in Jenin were facing that situation.

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