Middle East UN relief agency warns of humanitarian crisis in West Bank

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) warned today of a humanitarian crisis in the West Bank, where Israeli actions have undermined the Agency’s emergency operations and put its personnel at risk.One UNRWA staff member was arrested and others threatened yesterday by Israeli soldiers after a UN team succeeded in delivering urgently needed supplies of food and medicine to Ramallah hospital, the Agency said in a statement released today in Jerusalem. “Despite prior coordination with the Israeli authorities, the emergency teams were fired upon, endangering the Agency’s emergency operations and putting the staff at great personal risk,” the statement said. UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen expressed his deep concern at the growing deterioration as well as threats to the well-being of the detained and besieged UN staff members. He called on the Israeli authorities to immediately release UNRWA staff members, and allow other UN staff in besieged areas to regain their freedom of movement. Mr. Hansen also pledged that the Agency would continue to provide its emergency humanitarian services to those in need, despite the prevailing dangers, and called on donors to ensure that adequate funding is made available to UNRWA to cope with the added burdens resulting from the current crisis.Painting a grim picture of the destruction in the area, UNRWA said Ramallah lacks running water and electricity, while many buildings have been destroyed. “The accumulation of garbage and the damage to sewage lines in Ramallah and the adjacent refugee camp threatens the public health of the population and adds to the mounting fear that cross-contamination of the fresh water supply is a real risk,” the Agency said.Refugees and UNRWA staff living in refugee camps in the West Bank are reporting a serious shortage of basic food items, baby milk and medicine, according to the statement, which reported heavy shelling in several camps, as well as the arrest of unknown numbers of camp residents.Israeli army units today entered an UNRWA boys’ school in Jalazone camp, tore down the surrounding wall and, as in previous incursions into refugee camps, turned the school into a staging area. Repeated efforts to enter Jenin refugee camp and evacuate the wounded proved unsuccessful, and at least six people were killed in Jenin, the Agency said.