Matthias Burchard, Chief of the Liaison Office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said journalists had probably followed allegations in the past few days that UNRWA's ambulances in Gaza might have been misused by Hamas and calls by Israel's Permanent Representative to the UN in New York for the resignation of the Commissioner-General of UNRWA. An Israeli Spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) had just now retracted these allegations. UNRWA had maintained since the weekend that what was seen in the footage was a stretcher and not a rocket as alleged. UNRWA, with its limited means, had been able to establish this in a matter of 24 hours, and it was very astonished that the IDF with its superior technology had not been able to do so before launching this campaign against a UN organization. UNRWA's gravest concern was that such campaigns endangered UNRWA staff. A UN team, which had been coming to the area for another mission, would now also be looking into this issue. A press release was available in the press room.
Mr. Burchard said also available at the back of the room were copies of UNRWA's interim report on the emergency appeal for 2004. The humanitarian situation in Gaza had clearly worsened since the latest military incursion and should remain the centre of attention. Only 43 per cent of the $ 209 million requested for 2004 had been pledged.
Damien Personnaz of the United Nations Children's Fund said that 78 Palestinians had been killed, including 16 children, in Gaza in the latest incursion by the Israeli Defense Force. UNICEF was particularly alarmed at the rapid escalation of the number of child victims; the attacks were concentrated in areas heavily populated by civilians. UNICEF was also alarmed that when the IDF entered Gabalia camp, they completely destroyed a nursery which cared for children between the ages of two to four years. The damage had been estimated at $ 35,000. UNICEF questioned the reasons behind the IDF destroying a nursery. UNICEF had sent medical kits and clean drinking water to the areas affected by the incursion.
The Director said that copies of the Secretary-General latest statement on the Gaza Strip, in which he called on the Government of Israel to halt its military incursions into the area which had led to the deaths of scores of Palestinians, were in the press room. The Secretary-General likewise called on the Palestinian Authority to take action to halt the firing of rockets against Israeli targets by Palestinian militants. He reminded both sides to this conflict that they had a legal obligation to protect all civilians.