UNRWA statement on its operations in Gaza

09 January 2009

9 January 2009


The United Nations Relief and Works Agency has put into effect a temporary suspension of movements of staff throughout the Gaza Strip, with serious consequences for its principal operations. This decision, taken after careful consideration of its humanitarian implications, was compelled by incidents in which UNRWA staff, convoys and installations have come under attack.

These incidents, including yesterday’s tragic loss of life, occurred as a result of a breakdown in the effectiveness of the humanitarian co-ordination mechanisms established in coordination with the Israeli authorities. On numerous occasions in recent days, humanitarian convoys have come under Israeli fire even though their safe passage through clearly designated routes at specifically agreed times, had been confirmed by the Israeli liaison office. Although UNRWA’s protests were met with renewed promises that there would be no further coordination failures, humanitarian access continued to be impeded by live-fire incidents. Given the nature, severity and frequency of these incidents, UNRWA decided that the risks to its staff exceeded the threshold required for operational safety.

The temporary suspension primarily affects food distribution and other UNRWA operations that involve significant vehicle movement across Gaza. UNRWA’s Palestinian and international staff will however maintain their presence in Gaza and continue to serve displaced civilians who seek safety in UNRWA schools. UNRWA’s clinics will also remain open.

UNRWA will resume its full operation upon receipt of credible assurance from the Israeli authorities regarding the reliability of their mechanisms for ensuring security for UNRWA’s personnel, installations and humanitarian operations. In this regard, UNRWA expects the parties to abide by the Security Council’s resolution S/2009/23 of 8 January 2009, which calls for unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza and for an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire.

For more information please contact:

Christopher Gunness
UNRWA Spokesperson
Mobile: +972-(0)54-240-2659
Office: +972-(0)2-589-0267

Sami Mshasha
UNRWA Arabic Spokesperson
Mobile: +972-(0)54-216-8295
Office: +972 (0)2-589-0724

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Background Information

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at more than US$ 106  million.

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