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Agency to Further Role in Occupied Territory

UN Relief Agency Set to Further Its Role in Occupied Palestinian Territory

New York, May 22 2006 6:00PM

As the situation in Gaza and other parts of the Occupied Territories continues to deteriorate, the main United Nations humanitarian agency operating in the area is considering taking enhanced measures to assist refugees and other vulnerable sections of the affected population, its representative told a meeting in New York today.

“(We) have been asked by some, including the Secretary General, to take on an expanding role now,” Andrew Whitley, Director of the UN Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA), told the UN General Assembly’s Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, which met at UN Headquarters in New York today.

Though information from the field remains “partial, anecdotal and incomplete,” Mr. Whitley said, “it points clearly towards a serious and steadily worsening situation, particularly in Gaza, which is less self-reliant than the West Bank.”

He said he expected that many refugees who relied on the Palestinian Authority in the past would soon be turning to the Agency for assistance in the area of health care and education.

While anticipating that when schools reopen in September, children who are eligible for UNRWA’s services would attend UNRWA-run schools instead of government schools, Mr. Whitley stressed that by expanding its role, UNRWA did not intend to replace the Palestinian Authority.

The Agency “would do its utmost not to undermine the political institutions carefully built up over the past decade,” he said.

The humanitarian official said the Agency is in need of additional funding as its previous emergency appeal remains short of nearly half of the amount pledged. The fresh appeal for funding, he said, would need to be expanded “significantly” in the coming days.

Recently there has been a 500 per cent increase in new applications for emergency assistance in Gaza refugee camps, he said, anticipating that the number could continue to rise in the near-term.

Noting that the health situation is in “particularly bad shape,” Mr. Whitley said much is “riding on temporary international mechanism that we have been hearing about.” Earlier this month, members of the diplomatic Quartet – the UN, European Union, Russian Federation and United States – endorsed a temporary mechanism to funnel assistance directly to the Palestinian people. That action came as donors were balking at funding a Hamas-led Palestinian Government that has yet to renounce violence.

Also at today’s meeting, Committee Chairman Paul Badji of Senegal reported on a UN seminar held in Cairo which also called for further donor assistance and coordination of international assistance to the Palestinian people.

The seminar also stressed for “immediate and full” implementation of the Israeli-Palestinian Agreement on Movement and Access, which provides a comprehensive framework for the improvement of the delivery of humanitarian aid, he said.

“We warned against Israel’s plan to unilaterally draw permanent borders incorporating large parts of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” said Mr. Badji in his briefing to the Committee members. “We urged the world community to step in before it was too late in order to prevent such unilateral actions and to press for the implementation of relevant UN resolutions.”


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