Press Releases

    17 April 2002


    GAZA, April 16 (UNRWA) -- The destruction to Jenin camp looks like the aftermath of an earthquake, according to UN aid workers who accompanied two truckloads of food and medicines into the camp today. The wholesale obliteration of homes, streets and commercial buildings will leave a huge number of Palestinian refugee homeless, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

    Most shocking of all, the aid teams were told by residents that they hear noises coming from people trapped underneath collapsed buildings but are unable to free them. The Israeli military authorities would allow only limited access to the camp for the two truckloads of aid. Earthmoving equipment cannot currently gain access to the scene, nor can the numbers of rescue workers that would be needed to dig survivors to safety. However, there are reports that seven people have been pulled alive from the rubble in the last 24 hours.

    Teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross removed a small number of bodies that were easily accessible, but UNRWA believes many more remain buried beneath the devastation.

    The Israel Defence Force still maintains a heavy presence inside the camp with tanks and internal checkpoints. At one point today a tank parked itself in front of one of UNRWA’s half-full food trucks to prevent it from distributing its remaining food aid.

    The UNRWA’s food and water suppliers that did get to distribute their loads were rushed by large crowds, mainly composed of women, desperate to feed their families after 14 consecutive days trapped in the fighting and its aftermath. The UNRWA urgently needs to gain unlimited access to the camp to allow it to care for the large numbers of people in need of basic relief supplies. The Agency has large quantities of aid standing outside the camp ready to meet the needs of those inside, as soon as it is given free access to carry out its humanitarian mandate.

    The UNRWA installations such as a school and a health clinic were badly damaged in the assault on the camp and were extensively damaged by bullets. Unexploded ordnance remains in the grounds of an UNRWA school and will require professional defusing before the building can be used.

    The UNRWA is endeavouring to reopen its clinic to provide services to the camp residents. The Agency is also planning to set up water supply points in the camp, but will require access from the IDF.

    Richard Cook, Director of UNRWA operations in the West Bank, said: "The reports we are getting are of wholesale destruction of a kind more normally associated with natural disasters such as earthquakes. UNRWA still has not been given full access to the camp, where we believe many thousands of people are still in dire need of food, water and medical attention. We implore the Israeli authorities to open up the camp to allow our relief teams to help its desperate population."

    For more information contact:

    Paul McCann on 08 677 7526/059 428 008;
    Sami Mshasha on 02 589 0408/050 317 094.