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Press Release No. HQ/G/07/2001
5 December, 2001

The Humanitarian Situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank

Geneva – Mr. Peter Hansen, the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, today briefed the Conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

In remarks prepared before the recent Israeli military action Mr. Hansen focused on the standards and obligations reflected in the Fourth Convention and how they relate both to the Palestine refugees in the territory and UNRWA’s operations.

On protection of the civilian population Mr Hansen said: “The Fourth Geneva Convention provides that protected persons shall at all times be treated humanely, without discrimination, and shall be protected especially against acts of violence to life and person. Since October 2000 when the intifada started and until the end of November this year, 832 Palestinians have lost their lives, and more than 16,500 have been injured. Many of those killed and injured have been civilians. More than half of those killed were refugees registered with UNRWA. 15 per cent of those killed are children below the age of 16, and 15 per cent are young persons between the age of 16 and 18.”

On protection of civilian objects Mr Hansen said: “The Israel Defense Forces had bulldozed 205 refugee shelters that accommodated 1,573 persons, and 74 non-refugee shelters accommodating 470 persons. These demolitions have taken place mostly at night and often without any warning that would allow occupants to remove their personal belongings. Shelters have also been destroyed completely or partially by shelling. In total, 461 shelters have been demolished or destroyed, since last September, accommodating 3,333 persons, of whom 2,636 are refugees. It is questionable whether these acts carried out by Israeli forces were justified on the grounds of military necessity.”

On medical services Mr Hansen said: “The Convention stipulates that the wounded and sick, as well as the infirm, and expectant mothers shall be the object of particular protection and respect. It also provides that persons “engaged in the operation and administration of civilian hospitals” and in the provision of other medical services shall be respected and protected. The Agency’s hospital in Qalqilia has noted that the percentage of patients from outside Qalqilia dropped from 20.9 % prior to the intifada, to 6.6% in August this year – clearly, a result of restrictions on freedom of movement of those requiring medical assistance.”

“UNRWA ambulances have been fired upon by IDF soldiers on several occasions. Five of the 13 UNRWA local staff members who have been injured during this intifada were ambulance drivers. In one recent incident a Medical Officer and an ambulance driver were seriously injured while they were assisting injured refugees. The Medical Officer was hit with two live bullets hitting him in the back and the leg. A short time later, the ambulance driver was also hit with a live bullet in the abdomen. I should emphasize that both staff members were clearly identifiable as UN personnel.”

On education Mr Hansen said: “The Occupying Power is under an obligation to facilitate the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children. In the Gaza Strip alone, 25 students registered at UNRWA schools were killed and more than 550 were injured since the start of the intifada. Two months ago in the West Bank, without provocation, IDF soldiers shot at UNRWA students returning home from school in the Hebron area.”

“Over 300 refugee school children from Al Mawasi in the Gaza Strip have been delayed an average of one hour each day at a checkpoint on their way to school in Rafah. These students are often subjected to humiliating inspections, occasionally with the use of dogs. In October this year, more than 50 % of the school children at UNRWA schools in the West Bank lost one or more days in the classrooms. Further, 5,500 teacher days were lost during September and October this year.”

“On occasions, outside parties have entered UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip and shot at Israeli positions. In each such case, UNRWA has strongly protested to the Palestinian Authority and taken measures to hinder entry. In other cases, the IDF have targeted UNRWA schools without cause – for example at the end of October this year, IDF soldiers fired tear gas canisters into an UNRWA school in Hebron and then entered the school. The soldiers ordered the Head Teacher to evacuate all the pupils from the schoolyard. The soldiers then threatened to shoot the pupils if they were seen in the schoolyard in the future.”

On relief operations Mr Hansen said: “Under the Convention, the Occupying Power is obliged to facilitate relief schemes, by all the means at its disposal, and to permit the free passage of relief consignments. There has been a blanket prohibition on marked UNRWA trucks moving into and out of the Gaza Strip. As a result of these requirements, Agency warehouses in Jerusalem are stocked with 42 ten-ton truckloads of accumulated medical and other essential supplies for the Gaza Strip.”

On exemption from charges, taxes or customs duties Mr Hansen said: “The Convention provides that distribution of relief consignments shall be exempt in occupied territory from all charges, taxes or customs duties. UNRWA has been subject to charges and other types of taxes for its transportation of humanitarian supplies, essential for the well being of the Palestine refugees. At the crossing point into Gaza, a transit charge per vehicle has been imposed by the Israeli authorities since the beginning of the intifada. As at October 2001, UNRWA has paid up to $73,800 in transit fees.” On freedom of movement Mr Hansen said: “I would welcome the participating High Contracting Parties calling upon the Occupying Power to refrain from imposing unjustified restrictions on the free movement and to facilitate the free passage of UNRWA. The movement of our personnel and humanitarian goods in clearly UN marked vehicles and their access to Palestine refugees has been seriously hampered due to Israeli restrictions. In September alone, there were 155 major incidents at checkpoints in the West Bank where UNRWA had to intervene with the Israeli authorities.” “Palestinians, including UNRWA area staff members have been humiliated, threatened and assaulted by members of the Israel Defense Forces. Recently, at a checkpoint between Nablus and Jenin, IDF soldiers forced ten UNRWA staff members to leave their vehicles and to take off their shirts. The soldiers then conducted body searches and also searched the vehicles. Two days later at the same checkpoint, an UNRWA staff member was punched in the stomach by a soldier when he refused to take off his shirt.”

In conclusion Mr Hansen told the conference: “UNRWA is still facing serious constraints on the access necessary to deliver its humanitarian aid to Palestine refugees. We will continue to protest and oppose the arrangements made by the Israeli authorities which adversely affect our humanitarian access to Palestinians in need. Such impediments are contrary to the UNRWA’s rights under international law and the agreements we have with the Occupying Power.

Related Documents: HR/01/112,

            HR Statement

For Information Only
Not an Official Document
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