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8 March 2002
8 March, 2002
UNRWA Commissioner-General expresses deep concern at the
worsening humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
Jerusalem, 8 March 2002
The Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Peter Hansen, visited Tulkarem today, in an attempt to assess personally the situation in the two refugee camps in the town. On Wednesday, 6 March, Israeli Security Forces had entered the camps, initiating violent armed clashes, resulting in many deaths and injuries.
Mr. Hansen also intended to visit the family of an UNRWA member of staff, Kamal Hamdan, who was killed in the late afternoon of 7 March, whilst accompanying a United Nations ambulance to evacuate injured persons. The ambulance was hit four times by Israeli gunfire and Mr. Hamdan died before reaching hospital. The Commissioner-General is extremely saddened by the death of Mr. Hamdan, the first UNRWA fatality since the start of the present conflict in September 2000. As many as five ambulances have been hit within the last twenty-four hours, which seems to indicate a disturbing pattern of the targeting of ambulances. On 7 March, an ambulance driver of the Palestinian Red Crescent was killed when his ambulance also came under fire.
Mr. Hansen, accompanied by the Director of UNRWA Operations in the West Bank, Richard Cook, visited many of the injured in Tulkarem Hospital. Since 6 March, there have been 15 confirmed fatalities in Tulkarem, but the total number of injured cannot be assessed until the ICRC and UNRWA have been allowed to access the two camps. So far, such access has been denied, despite urgent and repeated requests from UNRWA and the ICRC to the Israeli Government and Defence Force to allow ambulances to evacuate those wounded.
There are confirmed reports that male refugees over sixteen years of age in Tulkarem Camp have, since the afternoon of 8 March, been rounded up and detained in one of the UNRWA schools in the Camp, and some have been arrested and taken away. There have been reports of Israeli soldiers carrying out a search campaign, moving from shelter to shelter by breaking through partition walls.
The Commissioner-General joins the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in strongly condemning the killing of the UNRWA staff member, which has occurred despite repeated letters of protest to the Israeli Government regarding the incursions into the refugee camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the denial of access for UNRWA’s humanitarian services and the targeting of Red Crescent and UNRWA ambulances. He also appeals to the Israeli Government to thoroughly investigate the incident leading to the death of Kamal Hamdan.
Mr. Hansen, during his trip to Tulkarem Hospital, and after repeated attempts to gain access to the Camps, said “Many refugees have informed me about the dire situation in Tulkarem Camp, where there have been many reported deaths and injuries. As soon as we can reach the Camp we will be able to accurately assess the situation and provide emergency relief and medical services to those in need”.
On his tour of the hospital, Mr. Hansen expressed his dismay at the apparently indiscriminate shooting from helicopter gunships at the camp population. Many of the casualties were women and children. The hospital has received so many injured persons that some have to be accommodated on the floor.
The Commissioner-General reiterated the need for the Israeli Government to honour its obligations under international humanitarian law.
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