26 September 2001


(Reissued as received.)

AMMAN, 25 September (UNRWA) -- The European Union will continue to urge the Israeli authorities to ease the restrictions on the movement of staff and humanitarian supplies by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), a meeting of 25 countries was told today in Amman.

This followed an UNRWA briefing on the restrictions imposed on staff and humanitarian aid in Gaza and the West Bank since the start of the current Intifadah, at the meeting of its major donor and host countries.

The UNRWA has 42 truckloads of medical supplies stranded in the West Bank which are intended for distribution in Gaza. In defiance of international convention Israel insists these supplies must be unloaded and searched. The Agency’s local staff are refused permits to drive UNRWA vehicles through Israeli crossing points into Gaza and the West Bank while supplies to health clinics, schools and food distribution centres have all been delayed or stopped completely by the 72 checkpoints operating in the West Bank.

The UNRWA staff have been unable to get to work; school days have been lost because of closures; and the Agency has been forced to spend money intended for humanitarian aid on storage fees for goods blocked by the Israeli authorities. The UNRWA’s representatives told the meeting "UNRWA’s humanitarian work is being choked by the Israeli Defence Forces’ persistent mechanical recourse to ‘security’. It is a mantra which in their view should result in the immediate evaporation of our needs and insistence on the legal privileges enshrined in international conventions."

Just this week the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed UNRWA that all vehicles crossing into the country over the Allenby Bridge from Jordan would have to be separated from their drivers and searched by Israeli security personnel. These arrangements amount to an unprecedented loss of custody of UN property, something that the Agency cannot agree to.

Leo D’Aes, Consul General at the Consulate of Belgium in Jerusalem and the European Union representative at UNRWA’s meeting said: "We welcome UNRWA’s report on its access problems. This gives the EU the additional information it needs for its contacts with the Israeli authorities. If we can support UNRWA in any way we will gladly do so."

The representative from the Netherlands said her Government would also urge efforts by the European Union to ease UNRWA’s work, and the Swiss Ambassador to Jordan said he would take up the issue directly with Israel. In addition His Excellency Roderick Bell, the Canadian Ambassador to Jordan, said that despite repeated demarches with the Israelis on UNRWA’s access problems, he was dismayed to see that the situation had not improved.

The UNRWA welcomed the European Commission’s announcement at the meeting that next year it will increase its contribution to UNRWA’s general fund from €120 million to €174 million. This amounts to a 45 per cent increase over the EC’s existing help for Palestine Refugees.

Mr. D’Aes also praised UNRWA’s efforts in such trying circumstances. "The European Union is always impressed by UNRWA’s performance. For it is no easy task to prepare a future for half a million school children, or to make sure that they and their parents are in a state of health that is truly remarkable compared with the limited resources you have at your disposal. The European Union therefore reiterates it full political and financial support for UNRWA. It is indeed in everybody’s clear interest that UNRWA be able to keep on delivering its services."

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