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Civilians Must Be Permitted To Leave Gaza At Will

Civilians Wishing To Flee Gaza Must Be Permitted To Do So, Stresses UN Refugee Chief

New York, Jan 6 2009 10:10AM

The top United Nations refugee official has stressed that civilians wishing to leave Gaza, where an Israeli military operation in response to Hamas rocket attacks has entered its 11th day, must be allowed to do so, and reminded neighbouring States of their responsibility to provide access to safety for those fleeing the ongoing violence.

“Those who are compelled to flee the Gaza Strip should be able to do so and to find safety and security in other countries according to international law,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in a statement issued yesterday.

There has been no large-scale movement out of Gaza because of the Israeli blockade. However, Mr. Guterres urged that “all borders and access routes concerned should be kept open and safe, and Palestinians endeavouring to leave Gaza should not be prevented from doing so.”

He called for strict adherence to humanitarian principles in the ongoing conflict in Gaza, where an already dire situation has been made worse by the Israeli offensive which began on 27 December.

The UN estimates that Palestinian deaths have reached 500 and are rising, and some 2,500 have been injured in the conflict.

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, told reporters yesterday the humanitarian crisis was “increasingly alarming,” with the people of Gaza becoming more cold, hungry, often lacking power, water and other basic services as well as facing the constant threat of bombing and shelling.

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Amid the worsening humanitarian environment, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been struggling to carry out vital tasks such as distributing food and medical supplies.

Mr. Guterres joined Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other senior UN officials in calling for an immediate halt to the violence and for humanitarian access for fuel and food into Gaza.

“It is absolutely imperative that the immediate delivery of humanitarian assistance to the civilian victims of this conflict be facilitated, including access from Egypt and Israel,” he stated, calling on the international community and all humanitarian actors to support UNRWA’s efforts to help the innocent victims.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has provided some emergency assistance to Egypt’s Red Crescent Society in case it is needed for the care of any Palestinians admitted into Egypt. The refugee agency stands ready to deploy an emergency team and equipment to the area as required.


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