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8 October, 2008

UN AGENCY CALLS ON ARABS TO HELP PALESTINIAN BRETHREN UPROOTED IN LEBANESE CAMP

The United Nations agency entrusted with assisting Palestinian refugees issued an urgent appeal today for Arab funds for emergency aid for 30,000 people whose homes were destroyed by fighting last year in northern Lebanon, noting that so far only the United States has come forward with a firm pledge.

Last month, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) appealed for $43 million for temporary services such as emergency food rations and shelter for the refugees from the Nahr el Bared Camp. So far only the US has pledged $4.3 million, while a few European donors have indicated a willingness to pledge, the agency said, noting that no donations have been forthcoming from Arab donors.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd called on “Arab donors to help UNRWA respond adequately to the humanitarian needs of these refugees who have endured more than their fair share of misery and displacement.”

The agency’s officials have said that if funds do not come in soon, essential emergency programmes will be severely reduced, since $2.5 million is needed every month for basic emergency aid.

“Unless we receive additional contributions by the end of the year, services to refugees will suffer. We must not allow that to happen,” Ms. AbuZayd said in Vienna at the signing of an agreement between UNRWA and the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), worth $5 million, for building eight new schools to replace those destroyed by the fighting in Nahr el Bared.

OFID has contributed $7 million to UNRWA projects since 2004 and today is the single largest supporter of the agency’s microfinance programmes which give refugees an escape from the poverty trap and offer financial self-sufficiency. “This is a cooperative enterprise for which UNRWA is grateful and in which we can all take pride,” she said.

She noted that OFID was among the first donors to respond to a joint appeal by UNRWA and the Lebanese Government for $445 million for rebuilding Nahr el Bared, the largest project in the agency’s nearly 60-year history. Of the $57.8 million pledged so far, 91 per cent came from Western governments.

“I hope I will soon learn of Arab government pledges, widely anticipated – and essential – if this project is to go ahead as planned,” she said.

Overall, she said her organization was facing a shortfall of $80 million from its regular budget, in part because of the rising cost of fuel which had hit UNRWA hard. She appealed to OPEC countries to help cover $4 million of fuel costs for UNRWA operations for 12 months in the occupied Palestinian territory, pointing out that the agency helps local municipalities in Gaza with fuel supplies for garbage disposal to prevent epidemics from breaking out.

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24 July, 2008

OVER HALF OF GAZA’S HOUSEHOLDS LIVING BELOW POVERTY LINE, UN SAYS

Household poverty is worsening in Gaza, with over half of all households in the area living below the poverty line, according to a new report released today by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

In spite of “significant amounts of emergency and humanitarian assistance,”
last year the number of households in Gaza below the consumption poverty line surged to an all-time high 51.8 per cent, the publication – based on figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics – noted.

UNRWA also sounded the alarm that the unemployment rate in the occupied Palestinian territory is one of the highest in the world, standing at nearly 30 per cent.

Unemployment reached a record 45.3 per cent in Gaza between July and December 2007. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate in the West Bank was 25 per cent, double the average rate in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Youth were hardest hit by surging unemployment, the study, entitled “Prolonged Crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory: Socio-Economic Developments in 2007,” said.

“If you deprive young people of an economic future, you deprive them of hope and when hope vanishes, what is left?” asked Christopher Gunness, UNRWA spokesperson. “How better to prevent despair and economic misery taking hold of a whole generation than to re-open Gaza’s borders?”

Data showed that in Gaza, new public sector jobs – partly fuelled by Hamas’
job creation initiatives – accounted for one quarter of job growth last year.

The report expressed concern over “the low level of investment spending in both the public and private sectors” in the medium- and long-run, cautioning that “Israeli imposed movement restrictions in the occupied Palestinian territory, whose population is estimated to have grown by about one third since 1999, have resulted in considerable regression over the past eight years and remain the main barrier to economic recovery and development.”

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10 March, 2008

AS ISRAEL APPROVES NEW SETTLEMENT HOUSING, UN’S BAN KI-MOON CALLS FOR HALT

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on the Israeli Government to halt the expansion of settlements after it approved the resumption of the construction of 750 housing units in Givat Zeev in the West Bank.

“Any settlement expansion is contrary to Israel’s obligations under the Road Map and to international law,” Mr. Ban said through a statement released by his spokesperson.

Addressing the parties in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Secretary-General re-emphasized the importance of fulfilling obligations under the Road Map, the peace framework drawn up by the Middle East diplomatic Quartet consisting of the UN, European Union, United States and Russian Federation.

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23 January, 2008

HUMANITARIAN SITUATION IN GAZA STILL DIFFICULT, SAYS UN RELIEF AGENCY

The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip remains extremely difficult, the United Nations agency tasked with helping Palestinian refugees said today, with Israeli authorities both easing and adding to the restrictions and measures on the transport of goods and people in and out of the area.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported that Israel has introduced new security measures – mainly for sugar and flour – that are hampering the delivery of aid in Gaza, where Israel has imposed tight restrictions on border crossings to try to force an end to the daily rocket and mortar attacks launched against Israeli residential areas by militants in Gaza.

UNRWA said it had been able to get in three truckloads of powdered milk today, but had been hoping to get nine truckloads, while an expected truckload of medicines never made it through.

But the agency also noted that it has received materials that will allow it to continue its food distribution operations inside Gaza, where about 1.5 million people live in an area 25 miles long and no more than six miles wide.

UNRWA has been warning in recent days that it will have to halt its many relief programmes to about 800,000 Palestinians in Gaza unless Israel lifts the closure of the crossings.

In an opinion column today in The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen Koning AbuZayd said, “Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution.”

Ms. AbuZayd stated that the restrictions mean the overwhelming majority of residents cannot enter or leave Gaza and fuel and electricity supplies are running out, threatening basic infrastructure such as health-care facilities.

“Medication is in short supply, and hospitals are paralyzed by power failures and the shortage of fuel for generators,” she wrote. “Hospital infrastructure and essential pieces of equipment are breaking down at an alarming rate, with limited possibility of repair or maintenance as spare parts are not available.”

Ms. AbuZayd added that the crisis in Gaza was undermining efforts to foster a spirit of moderation and compromise among Palestinians.

“There are already indications that the severity of the closure is playing into the hands of those who have no desire for peace. We ignore the risk at our peril.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in Geneva, where is he on an official visit, that he remained “deeply concerned” about the situation in Gaza.

In response to a question from a journalist, who noted that thousands of people have crossed the border from Gaza into Egypt because of the current situation, Mr. Ban urged the parties to resolve their issues peacefully.

“I know this very serious security concern of [the] Israeli people and Government and also I admit their legitimate security right to defend their country from all these security problems, or rocket fire coming from Gaza,” he said. “At the same time, I would hope that the Israeli Government should not take such a collective punishment to the general public.”

Mr. Ban observed that he has spoken by telephone to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to urge him to ease its border crossing restrictions and to provide the necessary fuel and supplies to Gaza.

In related news, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva held a special session today to consider a draft resolution on “human rights violations emanating from Israeli military attacks and incursions in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip.”

Addressing that session, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said the situation for both Palestinians and Israelis will continue to deteriorate unless both the parties to the conflict and the international community take broader steps.

“All parties concerned should put an end to the vicious spiral of violence before it becomes unstoppable,” she said. “To this end, they must ensure accountability for breaches of international humanitarian law and violations of international human rights law through credible, independent, and transparent investigations.”

Ms. Arbour stressed that the international community must intensity its efforts to ensure that the human rights dimension of the conflict is properly tackled, regardless of the progress towards or development a political settlement.

“It is therefore imperative that Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas respect the long-standing international legal obligations governing the situation to which they, as duty bearers, are bound.”

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7 November, 2007

BAN KI-MOON CALLS FOR STEPPED-UP EFFORTS TO ACHIEVE ISRAELI-LEBANESE PEACE

The months ahead will be critical to fully implementing the Security Council resolution that ended last year’s war between Israel and Hizbollah, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in his latest report in which he calls for greater progress on a series of fronts so that a permanent ceasefire can be reached.

Mr. Ban writes that he hopes that last month’s humanitarian gestures, in which the remains of an Israeli civilian were swapped for a Lebanese prisoner and the bodies of two Hizbollah members, will spur action to meet the humanitarian demands contained in resolution 1701.

“Compliance with the humanitarian demands… especially the release of the two abducted Israeli soldiers [Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser] is expected and demanded by the international community,” he says.

The Secretary-General stresses that progress is also necessary on releasing Lebanese prisoners, enforcing the arms embargo on the Syrian-Lebanese border, ending Israeli air violations of Lebanese sovereignty, delineating the border between Lebanon and Syria and resuming the national dialogue in Lebanon relating to the weapons of Hizbollah and other armed groups.

But he notes that progress depends in part on a quick resolution of Lebanon’s ongoing political stalemate, which has entered its eleventh month.

“The election of a President before the end of President Emile Lahoud’s mandate on 24 November is an important milestone that will pave the way for further normalization of political life in Lebanon, for effective dialogue on issues of national concern and for the unimpeded functioning of Lebanon’s institutions.”

The terrorist attack on 19 September that killed a Lebanese lawmaker and seven others also highlighted the grave security situation inside the Middle Eastern country, he writes.

Mr. Ban urges all Lebanese leaders to play their part in trying to achieve national unity and reconciliation, warning that he fears a scenario may emerge in which the State has two competing administrations or a constitutional vacuum.

Turning to the overall progress so far on the implementation of resolution 1701, Mr. Ban says he is pleased that both the Lebanese and Israeli Governments have “an enduring commitment” to achieving that end, and that the Lebanese armed forces are working with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to ensure that the area south of the Litani River is free of unauthorized armed personnel or weapons and not used for any hostile activities.

Last year the Secretary-General appointed a senior cartographer to try to achieve an accurate definition of the contested Shab’a Farms area, and this report details the provisional conclusions of the cartographer.

Mr. Ban states that he intends to consult all the relevant parties and the members of the Security Council regarding any further developments.

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24 September, 2007

PALESTINIAN INSTITUTIONS NEED URGENT REBUILDING, SAYS BAN KI-MOON

Palestinian institutions have been so weakened by the crises, fiscal uncertainty and political divisions of recent years that they will have to be rebuilt and reformed if they are to lay the foundations of a credible future state, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told a meeting today of key donors to the Palestinian people.

Mr. Ban told the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which met at United Nations Headquarters in New York, that the efforts of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to draw up a comprehensive reform and development plan for the territory were a positive first step.

“The consolidation of security, justice and the rule of law are of immediate priority in this respect, and vital to build confidence among Palestinians and Israelis alike,” he said to the Committee, which serves as the main coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Palestinian people.

Today’s meeting, which was attended by Dr. Fayyad and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni among others, was held in part to help prepare for an international pledging conference slated to take place in December. Dr. Fayyad’s development plan will serve as the basis for discussions at the conference.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who chaired the meeting, said the Committee reaffirmed its view that economic progress in the occupied Palestinian territory is an essential component to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Improved living conditions for the Palestinian people will facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian State,” he said in a summary of the meeting. “Hence, the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the donors all have to take stronger action to ensure the economic revival necessary to improve the daily lives of the Palestinian population.”

Mr. Støre added that development assistance is not enough to create a sustainable economy or to deliver tangible results on the ground.

“Easing restrictions on movement and access is vital for the revival of the Palestinian economy. Israeli security concerns should be taken into account,” he said.

Committee members also stressed that the Palestinian Authority should implement policies with a view to enhancing governance, strengthening institutions and improving the security environment.

In his address Mr. Ban noted that the recently appointed Representative of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet, Tony Blair, has already started working with the parties to determine how best to strengthen the Palestinian economy and the institutions of Palestinian statehood.

“Only if the peace process rests on solid institutional and economic foundations does it have a chance of succeeding,” he said.

The Secretary-General also voiced concern that the living conditions of a growing number of Palestinians are deteriorating.

“I am particularly concerned for the welfare for the ordinary people of Gaza, who find themselves and their goods increasingly cut off from the outside world,” he said, stressing that the world has a shared responsibility to help the population.

Mr. Ban said he was deeply concerned about “the de facto separation of the two parts of the occupied Palestinian territory, the efforts of Hamas to set up a competing government and the continuing violence and in and emanating from Gaza.”

Israel should take its own steps as well, he said, to encourage economic renewal. Access and movement for Palestinian workers and business operators and for commercial goods “will need to be eased as a matter of priority.”

Although Israel faced “continuing security threats which cannot be ignored,” Mr. Ban said a political solution was essential to providing the country with long-term security. “There are risks in taking action, but the risks of inaction at this time are far greater.”

Mr. Blair, who briefed the Quartet – which comprises the UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States – yesterday on the latest developments in the region, also addressed the Committee meeting today.

The Quartet issued a statement after yesterday’s meeting welcoming the international peace conference on the Middle East scheduled for Washington and calling for the talks there to be “substantive and serious.”

Mr. Ban described yesterday’s meeting as extremely productive and said the recently renewed dialogue between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has already yielded positive results.

He cited the resumption of tax and customs revenue transfers to the Palestinian Authority and the resulting payment of full salaries to Palestinian public sector workers.

“We have a new opportunity to build a cycle of mutual confidence, one in which calm, moderation and growing trust have a chance to prevail,” Mr. Ban said.

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23 May, 2007

ESCALATING VIOLENCE IN GAZA ALARMS UN HUMAN RIGHTS CHIEF

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today condemned the recent escalation of violence across the Gaza Strip, calling on all sides to do their utmost to ensure that civilians are protected.

In a statement, Ms. Arbour said the deadly intra-Palestinian violence was having a “devastating impact on an already vulnerable civilian population,” and she voiced hope that the ceasefire reached among Palestinian factions on Saturday would hold.

The High Commissioner also deplored the ongoing rocket attacks by Palestinian militants against the Israeli town of Sderot.

“Deliberate attacks against civilians, and the use of indiscriminate weapons, which I personally witnessed during my visit to Sderot a few months ago, are in flagrant violation of cardinal principles of international humanitarian law and must stop,” she said.

Ms. Arbour also called on Israel to exercise restraint. “Extrajudicial killings are in breach of both international human rights and humanitarian law, and cannot be justified under any circumstance,” she said.

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07 May, 2007

UN AGENCY STAFF RAISES $125,000 FOR SUFFERING FAMILIES IN BEIT HANOUN

Staff members of the main United Nations agency caring for Palestinian refugees have raised $125,000 to aid anguished families in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, where a six-day Israeli siege in November 2006 took the lives of 82 Palestinians and injured 26 others.

“I am sitting among you toady and my heart goes out to those who suffered and are still suffering from the tragedy at Beit Hanuon,” said Karen Koning AbuZayd, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Speaking at a ceremony last Friday to celebrate the accomplishment of the agency’s Area Staff Union also attended by the President of the Municipality of Beit Hanoun, she pledged that UNRWA will continue to support those picking up their lives in the aftermath of the attack.

According to the agency, 80 houses were either completely or partially destroyed, while 1,000 more were damaged. When their residence was hit by tank shells on 9 November 2006, 10 members of the Al Athamna family were killed.

The staff launched an appeal for funds shortly after the attack, and the distribution of the funds began this weekend.

Despite the difficulties in dealing with their own economic situations, over 5,000 staff, more than 50 per cent of local staff working in Gaza, contributed to the fund. More than 40 Gaza staff members gave over four days’ pay.

UNRWA employees “not only carry out their duties at work,” said Mohammad Aklok, the Area Staff Union head in the Gaza field office, “but they also go beyond the call of duty, donating from their own salaries to the families of Beit Hanoun.”

Of the $125,000, $51,500 will be distributed to 134 families, and the remainder will be put towards rebuilding a clinic and family centre, which, in a show of gratitude by the town’s residents, will be named after UNRWA’s employees.

Area Staff Union President Adel Eid said that the “donation emphasises the fact that we care and support the people of Beit Hanoun as employees of UNRWA, but also as people; people who have a deep rooted sense of what it means to be a community.”

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12 February, 2007

BAN KI-MOON PHONES SAUDI, ISRAELI, PALESTINIAN LEADERS ON LATEST PEACE MOVES

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon telephoned King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over the weekend, reiterating international terms for solving the Middle East conflict that include recognition of Israel, and urging support for the Palestinian unity accord.

In his talks, Mr. Ban reiterated “the terms of the Quartet statement released at UN Headquarters in New York on Friday,” his spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters today.

In that statement, the diplomatic grouping comprised of the UN, Russia, European Union (EU) and United States reaffirmed its “support for a Palestinian government committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Road Map.”

The Quartet has for several years now been championing the so-called Road Map plan aimed at securing a two-State solution to the Middle East conflict, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace, originally slated for completion by the end of 2005.

Friday’s Quartet statement also welcomed Saudi Arabia’s role in reaching the agreement to form a Palestinian National Unity government and expressed hope that the desired calm would prevail.

Mr. Ban will be going to Germany next week for a meeting of the Quartet in Berlin on 21 February where the four peace brokers will continue consideration of latest developments and review the status of the agreement on the Palestinian government.

In his telephone call to Mr. Olmert, Mr. Ban also expressed his concern over construction work initiated by Israel in the Old City of Jerusalem, which has been widely condemned by Arab and Muslim Governments. When asked what Mr. Ban had said, Ms. Montas said he had conveyed the concerns presented to him by UN ambassadors at the UN.

UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura last week voiced “deep concern” the work and called for the suspension of any action that could exacerbate tensions. “The wisest course would be to suspend any action that could endanger the spirit of mutual respect until such time as the will to dialogue prevails once again,” Mr. Matsuura said.

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30 January, 2007

BAN KI-MOON CALLS FOR RESUMPTION OF INTRA-PALESTINIAN DIALOGUE ON NATIONAL UNITY

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on all Palestinian parties to quickly resume dialogue for national unity after the announcement of a ceasefire in Gaza to end a civil conflict that has seen more than 40 people killed in Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence over the past month.

Mr. Ban commended Egypt “for its continuing efforts to calm a volatile and worrying situation,” a statement issued by his spokesperson Michele Montas said. “He calls for all parties to abide by the terms of the ceasefire and to move quickly back to the process of national dialogue in the pursuit of national unity.”

In a monthly update on the Middle East last week, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari told the Security Council that the pendulum in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had swung between worsening civil conflict and renewed efforts to forge national unity, with factional tension reaching acute levels in mid-December and again in early January resulting in the deaths of 43 people.

Deplorable incidents included the killing of three children as they were being taken to school, a shootout between gunmen at the Rafah terminal as Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh returned from a regional tour, and a siege on the home of an official in Gaza, killing the official and several others, he said.

He added that internal violence had been accompanied by heightened and negative political rhetoric and threats, and the strengthening of factional forces.

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29 January, 2007

ISRAEL: BAN KI-MOON DEPLORES SUICIDE BOMBING; URGES PALESTINIANS TO STOP FURTHER ATTACKS

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today condemned in the strongest possible terms the Palestinian suicide bombing which killed three people and wounded another at a bakery in the Israeli town of Eilat and called for swift action by Palestinian security forces to prevent threatened further attacks.

“Such acts of terrorism are a violation of international humanitarian law and can never be justified,” a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson Michele Montas said, conveying also the Secretary-General’s “deepest condolences” to the families of the victims.

“The Secretary-General is also alarmed at announcements that further attacks against Israeli civilians are being planned. He calls for swift action by Palestinian security forces to bring to justice those responsible and prevent further attacks,” the statement added.

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Alvaro de Soto also condemned today’s attack, saying it “can have no justification” and noting that it targeted ordinary people going about their daily lives.

Mr. De Soto also issued a statement over the weekend voicing concern at the escalating factional intra-Palestinian violence in the occupied territory, particularly Gaza, and at reports that national dialogue is being suspended.

He called on all parties to halt clashes, comply with international humanitarian law by refraining from acts which endanger civilians, and resume without delay dialogue for an early agreement on a national unity government with a realistic and positive platform regarding the basic principles of the peace process.

“Such a step would be in the vital interests of the Palestinian people at a time when there appears to be a genuine prospect for re-launching a political process that focuses on defining the contours of a future independent Palestinian state and how to achieve it,” he said.

The UN, together with United States, Russia and the European Union, form the diplomatic Quartet, which has scheduled a meeting for Friday in Washington to further advance its Road Map plan aimed at securing a two-State solution to the Middle East conflict, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace. Mr. Ban, who is currently travelling in Africa, is slated to attend.

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22 November, 2006

UN HUMAN RIGHTS CHIEF HOLDS TALKS WITH ISRAELI OFFICIALS IN JERUSALEM

The top United Nations human rights official held talks today with senior Israeli judges and a government minister as she continued her five-day visit to the country and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the wake of the rising violence there in recent weeks.

In Jerusalem, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Louise Arbour met the current and former Presidents of Israel’s Supreme Court and its Deputy Defence Minister. She also held talks with a wide range of human rights defenders.

Ms. Arbour is scheduled to wrap up her visit tomorrow by holding meetings in Tel Aviv with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the acting Justice Minister and officials from Israel’s Internal Security Agency.

Her visit to the region follows Israel’s deadly assault on 8 November in the town of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip, when 19 Palestinians were killed and some 60 others injured during the artillery shelling of a residential area.

At least 82 Palestinians have been killed since the Israeli Defence Forces
(IDF) began their latest offensive in the Gaza Strip near the end of last month. One Israeli woman was killed last week when a rocket struck the town of Sderot.

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13 September, 2006

QUARTET TO MEET NEXT WEEK TO DISCUSS LATEST PALESTINIAN SITUATION – ANNAN

Following an agreement between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas on forming a unity Government, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today that the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East, which includes the United Nations, will meet next week to discuss these developments and possible ways to provide humanitarian assistance to the occupied territory.

“[On Monday] I got a call from President Abbas to tell me that they have reached an agreement with Hamas… He also went on to say that the programme they have adopted requires all members of the Government to accept the programme of the Palestine Liberation Organization and all the agreements they had entered into earlier.”

“He felt this decision should satisfy the requirements and the conditions demanded by the international community. If that is indeed the case, he should really allow the international community and the donor community to move ahead very quickly and provide the assistance that the Palestinian people need.”

International donors have baulked at funding the Hamas-led Palestinian Government because it has yet to renounce violence and the continuing conflict with Israel has led to what Mr. Annan described as a “very desperate and serious situation” in the occupied territory.

“We have a temporary mechanism, which allows some money to go in, but to pay for humanitarian services, but not for salaries. It’s become a very complex situation that the Quartet will be looking at when we meet next week to review the impact of our own policies and what has happened on the ground.”

The diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East – comprising the UN, United States, European Union (EU) and the Russian Federation – are sponsoring the Road Map plan for a two-State solution, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace. However, Mr. Annan today lamented its lack of progress.

“I think the Road Map could have been implemented much faster, or we had hoped it would have been implemented much faster. Alas, it has not been. We are going to meet here next week, and we are meeting at a very critical time for the people in Palestine.”

Over the past few months there have been several high-level UN meetings on the worsening plight of the Palestinians in the occupied territory and last week a UN conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People adopted a plan of action aimed at addressing their plight, and ahead of next year’s 40th anniversary of the occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

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1 September, 2006

UN AID CHIEF URGES ACTION TO STEM SUFFERING IN OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN
TERRITORIES

Painting a grim picture of the current social climate in the Middle East, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator today urged donors meeting in Stockholm to address the severe suffering of Palestinians living under occupation.

Mr. Egeland, reflecting on more than two decades of travel to the region, said he had never felt such a sense of disillusionment, despair and hatred as on his last mission there in July.

Calling the situation in Gaza severe, he said a cessation of hostilities and the release of the captured Israeli soldiers were needed.

The humanitarian community also needed better access to Gaza, especially since the “hermetically sealed” Karni crossing made people feel like they were living in a cage, he added.

During his visit to Gaza in July, Mr. Egeland called Israel’s military offensive there a “disproportionate use of force” but emphasized that all sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were guilty of violating
humanitarian law.

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16 August, 2006

UN PALESTINE RELIEF AGENCY STRONGLY CONDEMNS THE KILLING OF ITS STAFF MEMBER

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has spoken out against the “senseless and tragic” killing of one of its workers, who died in Lebanon during an Israeli air attack just 20 minutes before the Security Council-mandate cessation of hostilities took effect on Monday morning.

Abdel Saghir, a sanitation worker, was felled when Israeli aircraft targeted a Palestinian faction in the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp in Saida with two missiles fired into a civilian residential area, UNRWA said, strongly condemning the incident and pointing out that the staff member was working to help others in the war-torn country.

“He was carrying out his duties in the most difficult of circumstances, helping to prevent outbreaks of disease in the camp where Palestine refugees and displaced Lebanese have been largely trapped by the conflict of the last month,” the agency said in a press release. “That he was killed just as hostilities were about to cease makes his death particularly senseless and tragic.”

Richard Cook, Director of UNRWA Affairs in Lebanon, expressed the Agency’s sadness at the loss of Mr. Saghir and offered his condolences to his family. “There can be no justification for firing two missiles into a densely populated civilian refugee camp whose residents have taken no part whatsoever in the recent conflict,” he said. “It shows a total disregard for innocent lives and the obligations of international humanitarian law.
It was a matter of chance that in such a crowded camp there were not more deaths and injuries.”

Mr. Saghir, 48, leaves behind a wife and three children.

In addition to the death of Mr. Saghir, who had worked for UNRWA for 21 years, three refugees were injured by the explosions and a number of refugee shelters were damaged. Ein el-Hilweh is the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, with a population of over 47,000 people crammed into an extremely small area, the Agency said. On 9 August, two people, one a child, were killed when shells were fired from an Israeli gunboat at the vicinity of the camp.

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9 August, 2006

DECRYING CIVILIAN DEATHS IN ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT, ANNAN URGES PARTIES TO TALK

Cautioning that the media’s focus on Lebanon should not detract attention from the need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today spoke out against the killing of civilians on both sides, noting that Israeli attacks have caused hundreds of deaths, and called for the parties to resume dialogue.

“The Secretary-General is greatly concerned that the tragic events in Lebanon and northern Israel should not distract from the urgent need to work towards a solution to the current crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory,” a spokesman for Mr. Annan said in a statement.

“The continued killing and injuring of hundreds of civilians, including children, in Gaza, by Israeli forces is utterly unjustifiable,” Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.

He voiced particular concern about the arbitrary arrest of many senior Palestinians, including the speaker of the Palestinian Council, Aziz Dweik, saying this further undermines the Palestinian institutions which must be preserved if a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to be achieved.

The statement also reiterated the Secretary-General’s long-standing call for a cessation of the rocket attacks from Gaza, which he noted have indiscriminately targeted Israeli civilians.

“He calls on the parties to resume dialogue without delay, and welcomes the continued efforts by the Government of Egypt to help bring this about,” Mr.
Dujarric said.

“Above all he believes these tragic events in the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel and Lebanon, show how urgent it is that a comprehensive peace process be revived as soon as possible.”

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1 August, 2006

GAZA CRISIS MUST NOT BE FORGOTTEN AS SPOTLIGHT MOVES TO LEBANON, UNICEF SAYS

The humanitarian crisis engulfing Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip is on the verge of being forgotten because of the fighting taking place in Lebanon and northern Israel, and children are suffering more than most, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today.

Gaza’s children – estimated at more than 830,000 – “are living in an environment of extraordinary violence, fear and anxiety,” UNICEF Special Representative in the occupied Palestinian territory, Dan Rohrmann, said today in a statement released in Jerusalem after he visited Gaza.

UNICEF announced it is stepping up its assistance in health, education, water and sanitation programmes, as well as counselling and activities for adolescents and younger children, across the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Rohrmann said 35 Palestinian children have been killed in Gaza over the past month, with almost a quarter of them under 10 years of age. He added that since the second intifada began in September 2000, some 912 children have been killed, including 119 Israeli children.

The Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process
(UNSCO) reported today that 38 Palestinians have been killed, including 7 children, and more than 130 others injured, by Israeli Defence Force (IDF) strikes since last Wednesday.

Fierce fighting has continued on both sides over the past week: the IDF has fired more than 1,050 artillery shots into Gaza and Palestinian militants have launched about 70 home-made rockets into Israel.

Gaza’s border crossings are partially or entirely closed, while the electricity supply to the region remains erratic since the IDF destroyed a power station on 28 June.

UNSCO added that its compound in Gaza was substantially damaged on Sunday night during a demonstration by an estimated 5,000 people following the IDF’s shelling at the weekend of a residential building in Qana, southern Lebanon, in which more than 50 civilians were killed.

Numerous UN officials, led by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, condemned that attack, which the Security Council also deplored. Most recently, today, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, issued a statement expressing “profound shock and sadness” at the Qana attack, strongly condemning the “callous disregard for children.”

Ms. Coomaraswamy’s office, along with UNICEF and other UN partners, has monitors on the ground in Lebanon and Israel to report on possible breaches of international obligations – including killing, maiming, denial of humanitarian access and attacks on schools and hospitals – and plans to report to the Council’s Working Group on children and armed conflict at the earliest opportunity, the statement said.

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13 July, 2006

US VETOES SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION ON VIOLENCE IN GAZA

The United Nations Security Council failed today to adopt a draft resolution calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the Israeli soldier abducted by Palestinian armed groups from Gaza and for a halt to what it called a “disproportionate” military reaction by Israel, due to a veto by the United States, which called the text unbalanced and outdated.

Denmark, Peru, Slovakia and United Kingdom abstained from voting on the draft, which also called for the release of all Palestinian officials detained by Israel and called on the Palestinian Authority to take “immediate and sustained” action to bring and end the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel.

The text would have explicitly condemned Israel’s current “military assault” in Gaza, which, it said, “has caused the killing and injury of dozens of Palestinian civilians” and destroyed Gaza’s main power station.

In addition, the draft called on the international community to provide emergency assistance to the Palestinian people to help alleviate the dire humanitarian situation, and on the Israeli Government to restore and maintain the continuous and uninterrupted supply of fuel to Gaza, and to “act expeditiously” to replace destroyed equipment at the power plant.

Explaining Washington’s negative vote, Ambassador John Bolton of the United States said the text did not reflect important new developments, including the fact that the Secretary-General is sending a team to the region.

Calling the draft “unbalanced,” Ambassador Bolton said it “placed demands on one side of the Middle East conflict but not the other.” If adopted, the text would have exacerbated tensions in the region while undermining the vision of a two-State solution as well as the credibility of the Security Council itself, he said, adding that the United States had worked to achieve a more balanced text, one which acknowledged that Israeli actions came in response to attacks, but no agreement had been reached.

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10 July, 2006

GAZA: UN AGENCIES VOICE ALARM AT WORSENING SITUATION, CALL FOR URGENT ACTION

United Nations humanitarian agencies working in the occupied Palestinian territory are alarmed at developments following Israel’s incursion into Gaza, where innocent civilians including children have been killed in actions that have brought increased misery to hundreds of thousands of people and will wreak far-reaching harm on Palestinian society.

“An already alarming situation in Gaza, with poverty rates at nearly 80 per cent and unemployment at nearly 40 per cent, is likely to deteriorate rapidly, unless immediate and urgent action is taken,” they said in a joint statement issued at the weekend.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which works with 980,000 refugees, warned that Gaza is on the brink of a public health disaster. Since the Israeli strike on Gaza’s only power plant on 28 June, the entire strip is without electricity for between 12 and 18 hours every day.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan has voiced increasing alarm in several statements in recent days, calling on both sides to “pull back from the brink,” and for an immediate halt to the “disproportionate use of force by Israel” as well as the release of an Israeli Army Corporal captured by Palestinian militants and the cessation of rocket fire into Israel.

UNRWA warned that the water utility is now relying on its own backup generators and its daily operation has been cut by two thirds leading to shortages and a critical situation at sewage plants. With restrictions on humanitarian supply lines there is now a backlog of over 230 containers of food awaiting delivery at the border crossing.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the public health system is facing an unprecedented crisis, with the current stock of fuel for back-up generators likely to run out within two weeks. In the last week, there has been a 160 per cent increase in cases of diarrhoea compared with the same period last year and the agency predicts that 23 per cent of the essential drug list will be out of stock within a month.

The World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that in June 70 per cent of the Gaza population was already unable to cover their daily food needs without aid. Flour mills, food factories and bakeries, reliant on electricity, are being forced to reduce production, while lack of refrigeration is resulting in high food losses. It called for a humanitarian corridor to ensure the arrival for relief items.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said children are living in an environment of extraordinary violence, insecurity and fear and the ongoing fighting is hurting them psychologically. Caregivers say children are showing signs of distress and exhaustion, including a 15 to 20 per cent increase in bedwetting, due to shelling and sonic booms.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) noted that while Israel has legitimate security concerns, international humanitarian law requires that the principles of proportionality and distinction between civilians and combatants be respected at all times.

The prohibition on targeting civilians is also being violated by Palestinian armed groups, launching missiles from the Gaza Strip into Israel, and must therefore end, it added.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is calling for the continuous and unimpeded access for relief aid and fuel supplies and for Israel to repair the damage done to the power station. OCHA fears the humanitarian situation could easily deteriorate, with continued Israeli military operations and artillery shelling, which could damage remaining infrastructure and essential services.

“Unless urgent action is taken, we are facing a humanitarian crisis that will have far reaching consequences for the communities we work in and the institutions we work through,” the joint statement concluded.

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7 July, 2006

AS GAZA SITUATION CONTINUES TO DETERIORATE, ANNAN APPEALS ONCE AGAIN FOR RESTRAINT

As the upsurge of violence between Israelis and Palestinians continued to escalate today, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan once again appealed to both sides to “pull back from the brink” for the sake of all civilians in the region.

“I call again for an immediate halt to the disproportionate use of force by Israel, which has already killed and wounded many civilians; for the release of Israeli Army Corporal Gilad Shalit; and for the cessation of rocket fire into Israel,” Mr. Annan, who is travelling in Germany, said through a statement released by his spokesman today.

“These measures are an absolute prerequisite for defusing the tensions which are escalating every day,” he affirmed.

In the statement, Mr. Annan also repeated his reminder – to both sides of the conflict – of their obligations under international humanitarian law, “which calls on them to take constant care to spare civilian populations and to refrain from any attack which may cause loss of civilian life and property.”

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22 June, 2006

UN RIGHTS EXPERT PAINTS DIRE PICTURE OF SITUATION IN OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORY

The situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) has substantially deteriorated since a cut-off of international funding after Hamas won elections earlier this year, unemployment and poverty are rising, critical health services are in jeopardy and some Israeli actions seem to be dictated by vindictiveness “to humiliate and harass,” according to the latest reports issued by United Nations human rights experts.

“In effect the Palestinian people have been subjected to economic sanctions - the first time that an occupied people have been so treated,” the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the OPT, John Dugard said, calling it “possibly the most rigorous form of international sanctions imposed in modern times.”

He called for intensified diplomatic action by the UN and European Union (EU) in view of the United States’ failure to play the needed role. “Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce violence will not be changed by isolation but by engagement and diplomacy. Unfortunately the United States is unprepared to play the role of peace facilitator,” he wrote in the report on a nine-day visit to the OPT earlier this month.

“This leaves the EU and the UN as the obvious honest brokers between Israelis and Palestinians. Whether either of these bodies can play this role while remaining part of the Quartet is questionable,” he added, referring to the diplomatic foursome – EU, Russia, UN and US, who have been seeking a two-state solution to the crisis.

Detailing a litany of hardships facing the Palestinians, Mr. Dugard said Gaza is under siege with Israel controlling its airspace, resuming sonic booms “which terrorize and traumatize its people,” increasing targeted killing of militants that have resulted in death and injury to innocent bystanders, and expanding the no-go border area to enable it to prevent the firing of Qassam rockets by Palestinian militants.

In the West Bank, the construction of Israel’s separation barrier continues to severely affect human rights, with farmers denied permits to farm their land and families separated.

“To aggravate matters there is a new mood of hostility towards Palestinians at checkpoints on the part of Israeli soldiers, probably in response to the Palestinian elections,” said Mr. Dugard who, as a Special Rapporteur, is unpaid and serves in an independent personal capacity, reporting to the new UN Human Rights Council.

He noted that checkpoints in the northern sector of the West Bank served no apparent security purpose, leading to “the inevitable conclusion that they are principally designed to humiliate and harass the Palestinian people,” while in the Jordan Valley “a spirit of vindictiveness prevails” with Israel refusing to supply villages with water and electricity.

He cited Israel’s withholding of $50-$60 million in monthly tax revenues, which it has not right to do, and said the cut-off in funding by the US and the EU, because they classify Hamas as a terrorist organization, directly affects 1 million of a total 3.5 million Palestinians through non-payment of salaries, while indirectly the whole population suffers economically.

He wrote that the recent Quartet decision to provide support to the Palestinian people will ameliorate the humanitarian situation but not alleviate the suffering, adding that attempts to persuade the Israeli Government to pay tax revenues due to the Palestinian Authority seem doomed to fail.

“The image of both the EU and the UN has suffered substantially among Palestinians as a result of the Quartet's apparent support for economic isolation, under the direction of the United States,” Mr. Dugard concludes.

“Their credibility and impartiality are seriously questioned by Palestinians. However, they remain the bodies most likely to achieve peace and promote human rights in the region. In these circumstances both bodies should seriously consider whether it is in the best interests of peace and human rights in the region for them to seek to find a peaceful solution through the medium of the Quartet.”

In a separate report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt, reminded the donor community that it has a responsibility to provide humanitarian aid.

“Donors’ actions have threatened the most vulnerable - the sick, infirm, elderly, children, and pregnant women. In short, some donors have acted in breach of their responsibility to provide international health assistance in the OPT,” he said.

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14 June, 2006

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: UN HEALTH AGENCY WARNS OF LOOMING CRISIS DUE TO FUNDS CUT-OFF

Calling for urgent action to avert a health crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory following the recent cut-off of donor aid after the formation of the new Hamas government, the United Nations health agency has said an interim mechanism is needed at once to prevent disruption of basic services.

“A more elaborate proposal will be developed with partners in the next two weeks,” the UN World Health Organization (WHO) added in its latest updateon the situation following a meeting on Monday with staff from the Palestinian Health Ministry, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRAW), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the World Bank, donors and other agencies.

Due to the funding crisis, medical staff have not received salaries since March. Absenteeism among health workers is reportedly on the rise. Primary health care centres and hospitals are running out of essential drugs. Several areas are experiencing fuel shortages and are thus unable to provide normal vaccination services, WHO said.

With donors balking at funding the Hamas Government unless it commits to non-violence, recognizes Israel and accepts previous agreements and obligations, including the Road Map plan for a two-State solution, the so-called diplomatic Quartet last month also called for a temporary mechanism to funnel aid directly to the Palestinian people.

No such mechanism is yet in place.

The Quartet – the UN, European Union, Russia and the United States – are sponsoring the Road Map plan for a two-State solution, with both Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace. Hamas has rejected this.

Since the Hamas victory in January elections, Israel has also stopped the transfer of Palestinian value added taxes (VAT) and customs taxes it is obligated to pass over, which comprise around 50 per cent of the budget of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

“The crisis is seriously affecting the ability of the Palestinian Ministry of Health to deliver critical health care services and maintain public health programmes,” WHO said, noting that the Health Ministry is responsible for more than 60 per cent of all primary health care centres
and hospital beds and for almost half of all maternity beds.It is also responsible for most public health programmes. In several governorates, it is the sole health service provider. “These vital services must be maintained if a humanitarian health crisis is to be averted,” WHO added.

Just last Friday, a senior UNRWA official warned that vital public services are in danger of collapsing if a solution is not found soon. “We urgently need to get the funding mechanism, promised by the Quartet a month ago, operational now,” the Agency’s Director of Operations for Gaza John Ging said.

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31 May, 2006

FACING GRIM SITUATION IN PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES, UN RAISES AID APPEAL BY 80 PER CENT

With the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territory looking extremely bleak and predicted to worsen in the coming months, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been compelled to revise their appeal for aid to Palestinians upwards by 80 per cent from $215 million to $385 million.

The revised amount “aims to alleviate the impact of soaring joblessness and collapse in family income through the creation of emergency employment and to prevent increased malnutrition through expanded food assistance to families unable to meet their caloric needs,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said today.

It noted that infants and children, who make up half the population, are at special risk of malnutrition in the fiscal crisis facing the Palestinian Authority (PA). After the Hamas victory in the January election, Israel stopped the transfer of Palestinian value added taxes (VAT) and customs taxes it is obligated to pass over, which comprise around 50 per cent of the PA budget.

The revised appeal will attempt to revive an agricultural sector hard-hit by closures, provide essential health services including counselling for traumatized youth, and provide water to communities with restricted access.

With revenues including donor funds to the PA rapidly drying up, salaries to 152,000 of its employees, who support 1 million people, or more than 25 per cent of the population, have now not been paid since February. The lack of salaries and essential supplies will undermine the delivery of key services to most Palestinians, OCHA warned.

If current trends persist, Palestinian gross domestic product (GDP) is conservatively estimated to fall by 25 per cent by the end of 2006. Poverty is predicted to rise, and around 70 per cent of Gaza’s potential workforce will either not be working or be unpaid.

The revised appeal cannot, and does not aim to replace the comprehensive range of services provided by the PA, such as hospitals and schools.

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26 May, 2006

POVERTY, UNEMPLOYMENT WORSEN IN ISRAELI-OCCUPIED ARAB TERRITORIES – UN REPORT

Poverty and unemployment continued to worsen in Palestinian and Syrian territories occupied by Israel despite a moderate economic upturn last year, according to a new United Nations report issued today covering the period before a new deterioration stemming from a suspension of aid after Hamas took over the Palestinian Government.

“Again, the worsening situation since the end of 2005 urgently requires every effort of the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli Government and the international community to achieve decent work for women and men in the occupied territories,” the annual International Labour Organization (ILO) report says. “The development of a viable Palestinian economy must be a
priority.”

While the economy rebounded moderately after a very sharp dip, 4 out of every 10 Palestinians were living under the official poverty line of less than $2.10 a day. The absolute number of the poor has risen from 600,000 in 1999 to 1.6 million in 2005.

Open unemployment reached 23.5 per cent. Counting people who were employed prior to the start of the Palestinian uprising in 2000 but are neither employed nor actively seeking work, ILO estimates the jobless rate at 40.7 per cent. Moreover, every employed person supports an additional 5 persons.

The report is based on missions sent to the occupied territories, Israel and Syria earlier this year and covers the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.

Barriers to mobility for persons, goods and services within the West Bank and between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank worsened in the latter half of 2005 and early 2006, it says.

Lifting those barriers, together with a viable trade regime with Israel and the world, are the two most important and pressing prerequisites to alleviate the crisis and promote decent work. Israel’s pullout from Gaza, an important event, has created potential for economic and social recovery but this is hampered by continuing difficulties for Palestinian exporters, the report adds.

As in previous years, it identifies discrimination against Arabs in favour of Israeli settlers in the occupied Syrian Golan as an ongoing concern.

Referring to an increase in violence, with casualties on both sides, the report concludes that, “security in all its aspects - physical, social and economic - in Israel, on the one hand, cannot be separated from the same security needs of the Palestinian people living in the occupied territories, on the other.”

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25 May, 2006

NEW CHALLENGES IN MIDDLE EAST UNDERSCORE NEED FOR NEGOTIATED SETTLEMENT – UN OFFICIAL

Hamas’ takeover of the Palestinian Authority, inter-factional tensions in Gaza and the new Israeli Government have produced a fresh set of challenges and opportunities for the international community, a senior United Nations official has told the Security Council, stressing the need for negotiations to achieve the goal of a two-State solution.

“Unilateral moves simply cannot resolve issues such as the border between the States of Israel and a future Palestinian State, which must be mutually agreed,” Ibrahim Gambari, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said in remarks prepared for the Council meeting on Wednesday.

“A two-State solution can only be achieved through negotiations, and its achievement will be an important element of ensuring sustainable peace and security in this region,” he said.

Reviewing recent developments in the region, he noted that salaries to some 155,000 public sector workers in the occupied Palestinian territory have not been paid since February, and warned that, “Longer term projections point to dramatic rises in poverty and unemployment rates if current trends continue.”

Mr. Gambari recalled that at a meeting earlier this month, the diplomatic Quartet – UN, United States, European Union (EU) and Russian Federation – expressed its willingness to endorse a temporary international mechanism, to be developed by the EU, that would ensure direct delivery of assistance to the Palestinian people. The UN fully backs EU efforts to realize this initiative, he said, adding that the Secretary-General “hopes that the scope of the mechanism will be as broad and non-discriminatory as possible.”

Concerning the security situation, Mr. Gambari said five Israelis were injured by Palestinian violence this month. While no Israelis were killed, one Israeli and one American teenager died of wounds sustained in last month’s suicide attack in Tel Aviv.

A reported 45 Palestinians have been killed this month, including at least 2 children, and 180 Palestinians have been injured. “Of the Palestinian casualties, ten of the dead and at least 33 of the wounded were victims of intra-Palestinian fighting, as was one Jordanian government employee who was killed a few days ago in Gaza,” he said. “This internal strife, notably in Gaza, has now reached worrying proportions.”

The Government of Israel reported that 81 attacks had been perpetrated against its territory. Israel responded with shelling of the rocket launching grounds. “It remains essential for the Palestinian Authority to heed the Quartet’s call to act decisively against terrorism and bring an end to the violence,” Mr. Gambari said.

He noted that among other operations this month, Israel killed five alleged militants in Gaza on 5 May, seven on 14 May in the northern West Bank, and on 20 May, a leading member of Islamic Jihad in Gaza. “In this last attack, a boy, his mother, and his grandmother were killed, and a three year old was wounded,” Mr. Gambari said. “Such collateral damage underlines the need for Israel to cease targeted killings, and heed the call of the Quartet to show restraint and consider the potential consequences of its actions on civilians.”

Mr. Gambari stressed the need for “all parties to engage in a substantive dialogue at the earliest opportunity.” He praised the Lebanese for their national dialogue and said the one being undertaken among the Palestinians “could be another example of constructive engagement by the stakeholders in addressing critical issues.”

Negotiations for the future of the political process between Israel and the Palestinians, he said, are of “central importance.”

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22 May, 2006

UN RELIEF AGENCY SET TO FURTHER ITS ROLE IN OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORY

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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