6 August 2009 In the wake of the evictions of dozens of Palestinian refugees in East Jerusalem earlier this week, the United Nations today voiced concern that more families could be forced out of their homes by Israel, causing further humanitarian suffering.
Two families, comprising 53 people registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), were forced out by Israeli security forces last weekend from the Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, with Israeli settlers moving into their homes.
“The families, evicted in the early hours of Sunday from the homes where they have lived for more than half a century, continue to suffer distress and shock,” UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said in a statement issued today in Jerusalem. “The children are particularly traumatized.”
On top of being surrounded by Israeli police and security personnel at dawn on Sunday morning, with their homes broken into, “they have had to endure the indignity and humiliation of their personal effects being loaded onto trucks and dumped in scrub land at the edge of Jerusalem’s Route One,” a busy thoroughfare, he added.
Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, characterized the evictions as “unacceptable” earlier this week, stressing that the move only serves to amplify already high tensions and block progress towards the peace process.
“These actions are contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions related to the occupied territory,” he said, adding that they flout the united calls by the international community, including those by the diplomatic Quartet comprising the UN, the United States, the European Union and Russia.
In a joint communiqué issued after a June meeting, the Quartet called on Israel to “to refrain from provocative actions in East Jerusalem, including home demolition and evictions.”
UNRWA today welcomed the international community’s statements deploring the weekend’s evictions, but said it remains concerned about other refugee families in the area and said it will continue to closely monitor the situation.
Mr. Gunness noted that the agency is helping the families kicked out of their homes on Sunday recover their belongings, adding that “we are raising these cases with the Israeli authorities as a matter of urgency” and calling on them to refrain from further evictions.
He also said that UNRWA calls on Israel to reinstate those evicted, a move demanded by Mr. Serry.
The Special Coordinator has also stressed that the UN rejects Israeli claims that the evictions are a matter for municipal and domestic courts, urging Israel to abide by international law and its obligations under the Roadmap plan for Israel and Palestine to live side by side in peace.
Last week, he condemned the Israeli security forces’ takeover of a house in Sheikh Jarrah, noting that the recent “upsurge in orders for house demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem is contrary to the Roadmap. Any settlement activity in East Jerusalem is contrary to international law and cannot prejudice the outcome of negotiations.”
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