UNITED NATIONS RELIEF AGENCY FOR PALESTINE REFUGEES FACES DEMANDS ‘FROM ALL SIDES’ AGAINST BACKDROP OF ENDEMIC CRISES IN OCCUPIED TERRITORY, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD

7 November 2007
GA/SPD/387

UNITED NATIONS RELIEF AGENCY FOR PALESTINE REFUGEES FACES DEMANDS ‘FROM ALL SIDES’ AGAINST BACKDROP OF ENDEMIC CRISES IN OCCUPIED TERRITORY, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD

7 November 2007
General Assembly
GA/SPD/387
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-second General Assembly

Fourth Committee

18th & 19th Meetings (AM & PM)

UNITED NATIONS RELIEF AGENCY FOR PALESTINE REFUGEES FACES DEMANDS ‘FROM ALL SIDES’

AGAINST BACKDROP OF ENDEMIC CRISES IN OCCUPIED TERRITORY, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD

Observer of Palestine Calls on Israel to Cease ‘Illegal Action’ against Agency

Staff; Israel Says, Despite Agency’s Politicization, It Backs Humanitarian Mission

Demands on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) for humanitarian relief, education, health care and shelter were crowding in from all sides against a backdrop of endemic crises in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Karen Koning Abuzayd, the Agency’s Commissioner-General said this afternoon, stressing the need for continued international support to shore up the Agency’s capacity to respond.

Addressing the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) as it began its yearly consideration of UNRWA’s work, the Commissioner-General said that around 80 per cent of the population in the Gaza Strip was dependent on food rations provided by UNRWA and the World Food Programme (WFP), while refugees in the West Bank -- about 30 per cent of the population there -- were suffering grievously from constraints posed by the illegal separation barrier and expanding Israeli settlements.  Added to that, the conflict in the refugee camp at Nahr el-Bared, north Lebanon, last summer, had displaced more than 30,000 Palestine refugees. 

While humanitarian relief remained an essential part of its work, UNRWA would continue its efforts to promote human development and self-reliance among Palestine refugees through its education, vocational training, health, camp improvement and microfinance programmes, she said, adding that it would do so despite a funding gap of more than $92 million in 2007, and a projected funding gap of $119.6 million next year.

Ms. Abuzayd said the Agency’s education programme was currently allowing 500,000 children to go through primary and preparatory cycles in UNRWA-run schools before continuing on to secondary and tertiary education.  But years of under-investment in UNRWA’s schools and teachers, combined with the consequences of poor economic prospects and violent conflict, had begun to take a serious toll on the Agency’s achievements in education.  In Gaza specifically, there was a high failure rate for pupils.

Also, she noted that Syria and Jordan bore the brunt of the exodus of more than 2 million refugees from Iraq, among them, a small number of Palestine refugees.  While their arrival had had no direct consequence for the Palestinians living in their domain, indirect effects were discernible in the form of a strain on public facilities.  For instance, the Jordanian educational system was absorbing large numbers of children of Iraqi refugees, and there was an urgent need to invest in improvements in UNRWA’s schools in Jordan.

Meanwhile, the closure of crossing points within the Gaza Strip itself had brought further complications, she said.  Hospitals were being deprived of equipment and supplies, with 91 drugs currently unavailable in Gaza, including many for children.  The closure of the Erez and Rafah crossings had also meant that many seriously-ill people were denied the opportunity to seek treatment in Israel, the West Bank and Egypt.

She said the Agency had embarked on a three-year organizational development plan in late 2006 to reform its human resources management, procurement information and communications technology and the simplification of business processes.  So far, it had raised $14.3 million out of the $28.5 million required to implement that plan, and a handful of international staff had been recruited, whose positions were funded temporarily by the development budget.  It was essential that they be mainstreamed into the United Nations regular budget to ensure that the staff members were retained in the years ahead. 

Jonas Carsten Jølle, (Norway), Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA, who introduced that body’s report today, urged Governments to fully fund the Agency’s budget for the biennium 2008-2009, and called for the reimbursement of the value-added tax by the Palestinian Authority and port and related charges by the Government of Israel.

According to the report, the withholding of tax revenues and international donations to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas took power had taken an enormous toll on economic and social development during 2006.

In the ensuing debate, the Permanent Observer of Palestine noted the central role played by UNRWA in providing assistance to the Palestine refugees and acting as a “protecting presence” since its establishment.  However, negative developments in the region, including Israel’s continued military assaults on Palestinian population centres, including refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, affected the Agency’s operations and strained its human and financial resources.  The Agency was entitled by law to carry out its mandate free from harassment, intimidation, obstruction and destruction.

He, thus, called on Israel to cease its “illegal action” against the Agency and it staff, and to lift all restrictions on the movement and access of UNRWA staff, vehicles and supplies.  At the same time, he expressed concern about reported incidents of Palestinian violations of UNRWA facilities and violence towards staff, and assured the Agency that the Palestinian Authority rejected those actions and was doing its utmost to bring them to an end.

Israel’s delegate said that, despite what he saw as the politicization of UNRWA, his Government supported the Agency’s humanitarian mission.  But he took issue with certain passages of the UNRWA report, which had talked of the suspension of international donor-funding to the Palestinian Authority, but had neglected to mention principles laid down by the Quartet on the Middle East -- United States, Russian Federation, European Union and the United Nations -- upon which any assistance to the Palestinian Authority was to be reviewed, namely, commitment to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations. 

Nor had the report discussed how terrorist activities by Palestinians had restricted UNRWA’s activities, he said.  While acknowledging the fact that crossing points were often closed, he added that that was the result of rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian terrorist groups, supported by Hamas, against the very crossing points used to supply the inhabitants of Gaza with food and essential supplies.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Syria, Cuba, Qatar, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Iceland, Portugal (speaking on behalf of the European Union), Viet Nam, Lebanon and Japan.

Earlier today, the Committee concluded its discussion on assistance in mine action, where Vice Chairperson Viktoriia Kuvshynnykova ( Ukraine) informed the Committee that action on the related draft resolution had been postponed to a later date, at the request of the text’s co-sponsors.

Delivering statements on that issue were the representatives of Switzerland, Australia, Eritrea, Pakistan, Ukraine, Libya, Zambia and Colombia.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 8 November, to continue its debate on UNRWA.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met today to conclude its general debate on assistance in mine action, and to begin its consideration of the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). 

On the topic of mine action, the Committee had before it a report of the Secretary-General on that issue, summarized in yesterday’s press release GA/SPD/386

On the subject of UNRWA, the Committee had before it a Report of the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (document A/62/13 and Add.1), covering the period from 1 January to 31 December 2006.  UNRWA was established in 1949 to contribute to the human development of Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria until a just solution is found to the refugee issue.  The Agency fulfils this purpose by providing a variety of essential services within the framework of international standards.  Its services include education, health, relief and social services, and microfinance and micro-enterprise.

According to the report, the most prominent political, economic and security developments in 2006 occurred in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Lebanon.  In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, armed conflict, closures and the withholding of tax revenues and international donations to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council and President Mahmoud Abbas formed a Government, took an enormous toll on economic and social well-being during 2006.  Real gross domestic product per capita declined by almost 7 per cent during the year and poverty levels increased by 30 per cent by mid-year.  The situation in Gaza was particularly grim.  In a study commissioned by UNRWA, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics estimated that 79.8 per cent of the inhabitants were living in extreme income poverty by mid-2006, an increase of 54 per cent over mid-2005.

In Lebanon, the killing of three Israeli soldiers and capture of two others by Hizbullah, in a cross-border attack into Israel, sparked a major conflict that began on 12 July 2006 and lasted 34 days.  The Palestinian community was substantially affected by the conflict.  Approximately 47 per cent of Palestine refugees live outside the camps, side by side with the Lebanese community, and suffered the destructive effects of the conflict in the same manner as the Lebanese.  UNRWA participated in an early recovery appeal for Lebanon in the aftermath of the conflict and received a total sum of $4.9 million to be spent on emergency needs, water and sanitation works, immediate shelter repair, psychosocial support, new infrastructure in schools and the establishment of a programme to reactivate businesses.  By the end of 2006 the Agency had received $21 million, allowing it to commence work on a number of projects, including an infrastructure project that will improve environmental conditions in and around Shatila Camp in Beirut.

In organizational developments, according to the report, important initial steps were taken in each of the four levels of the reform process -- human resources management; programme management, including the establishment of a programme-management cycle; leadership and management; and organizational processes -- thus laying the foundation for achieving the goals of the organizational development process.  More than $2 million of the $30 million financial contributions required over the years 2006 to 2009 was contributed.

According to the report, the dramatic deterioration of living conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory affected the Agency’s operational context by increasing demands for its emergency programmes and prompting it to raise its emergency appeal from $95 million to $171 million.  Refugee access was also affected in 2006, according to the report, as Israel, citing security concerns, continued to severely restrict the freedom of movement of Palestinians.  Staff security was also affected, with temporary staff withdrawals and relocations resulting from bombings and in Gaza and the conflict in Lebanon.

The report states that Israeli authorities, citing security concerns, continue to restrict the freedom of movement of UNRWA personnel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  In the Agency’s view, most measures did not relate to military security, but rather were matters of police or administrative convenience.  At the end of 2006, 13 staff members were still being detained, eight of whom were held by the Israeli authorities, two by the Palestinian authorities, and one each by the authorities of Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.  In other matters, the report states that the issue of reimbursement by the Government of Israel for port and related charges incurred by the Agency in connection with goods imported to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank through Israel is unresolved.

Also according to the report, the Agency expended $598.7 million in 2006, against a total budget of $639 million, on projects and emergency appeal activities.  Education remained the largest programme in 2006, accounting for almost 60 per cent of the total budget (see table 1).  Health, relief and social services, operational and technical services, and common services followed with 18 per cent, 11 per cent, 5 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively.  The budget shortfall of $71.5 million necessitated the adoption of stringent austerity measures throughout the Agency.

The report also included performance reports of its subprogrammes -- education, health, relief and social services, microfinance and micro-enterprise -- including performance by indicators. 

Also before the Committee was a Report of the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (document A/62/361), which describes the Group’s activities during 2007 and provides a detailed outline of UNRWA’s current financial situation.

According to the report, the budget for the biennium 2006-2007 was under-funded, with 2006 contributions only reaching $371.5 million, or 76 per cent of the budget of $488.6 million.  In 2007, UNWRA projects its income at $414.6 million ($365.2 million in financial contributions, $20.3 million in kind, $20.1 million in transfers from the United Nations “assessed contributions” budget to cover the costs related to 113 international posts, and $9 million in forecast interest income and exchange-rate gains), which is still 18 per cent below the required amount.

The report also says that UNRWA was obliged to pay the Israeli Government more than $108,486 in 2006 and more than $62,131 between 1 January and 30 June in transit charges, which, in its view, it ought to have been exempted from under the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.  In addition, UNRWA was prevented from moving containers in sufficient numbers to avoid incurring excess charges for storage, demurrage and transportation, which amounted to $2.1 million in 2006 and around $300,000 during the first six months of 2007.  The Agency considers that the throughput of goods was not consistent with Israel’s obligations under the Comay-Michelmore Agreement of 1967 and under article 59 of the 1949 Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (the Fourth Geneva Convention).

The report notes that, when the Karni commercial crossing was shut down, unemployment and poverty rates in the Gaza Strip were pushed up to approximately 50 and 80 per cent respectively.  In view of the deepening humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Working Group urges the international community to fully fund the Agency’s emergency appeal for 2007 -- for $246 million -- to which pledges had only reached the halfway mark ($123.3 million as at 27 August).  UNRWA also urged donors to respond to its June appeal for $54.8 million to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon, which was damaged during a clash between the Lebanese Army and a militant Islamist group from May to August.

Regarding the 2008-2009 biennium, the report says UNRWA’s cash and in-kind regular budget -- as submitted to the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions -- amounts to $1.09 billion. 

The Committee also had for its consideration the report of the Secretary-General on Persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities (document A/62/282), which refers to correspondence between the Secretary-General and the Permanent Representative of Israel regarding actions taken by Israel’s Government in implementing resolution 61/113. 

The report reaffirmed the right of all persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities to return to their homes or former places of residence in the Territories occupied by Israel since 1967.

In notes verbales on 8 June, the Secretary-General addressed Permanent Representatives of Member States, including the Permanent Representative of Israel, requesting to be informed of any action that Government had taken or envisaged taking in implementation of the resolution’s relevant provisions.

In a note verbale on 16 August, the Permanent Representative of Israel replied that, with the emergence of a Palestinian Government that accepts the three basic principles of the international community —- recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and terror, and abiding by previous agreements —- there is great potential for progress on an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.  The representative also said that, while Israel believed that UNRWA could be an important vehicle to promote peace and stability in the region, it remained concerned with politicization of UNRWA and is in favour of consolidating UNRWA resolutions and removing any extraneous political language.

The report also presented a note verbale from 2 August, in which the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations replied to the resolution and said that, regrettably, Israel, the occupying Power, had not respected the right of return and had not complied with the mechanism agreed upon by the parties in the 1993 Declaration of Principles.  The Observer underscored the appeal made by the Assembly for Governments, organizations and individuals to contribute to UNRWA to meet its continuing needs.

The report also noted that UNRWA is not involved in any arrangements for the return of refugees, nor is it involved in any arrangements for the return of displaced persons who are not registered as refugees.  From 1 July 2006 to 30 June 2007, 2,220 refugees registered with UNRWA returned to the West Bank, and 249 to the Gaza Strip from places outside the Occupied Palestinian Territory, making the number of displaced registered refugees who are known by the Agency to have returned to the Occupied Territory since June 1967 about 29,003.

The Committee had before it the report of the Secretary-General on Palestine refugees’ properties and their revenues (document A/62/312), noting that, on 8 June, the Secretary-General sent notes verbales to Israel and all other Member States drawing their attention to the relevant provisions of resolutions 61/112  and 61/115.  He requested information by 16 July concerning any action taken or envisaged in relation to the texts’ implementation. 

The Secretary-General received two replies.  The first, dated 7 August, was received from the Palestine Liberation Organization.  It notes the importance of these resolutions, reviews the situation of Palestine refugees throughout the region and states that, as a result of that situation’s deterioration, enormous strain is being placed on UNRWA -– a fact that should be of concern to the entire international community and particularly to the donor community.  Regrettably, owing to the continued decline of the political, socio-economic and security situation in the region in the recent period, particularly in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in Lebanon, UNRWA has faced increasing challenges and obstacles.  The reply enumerates them, as well as Israel’s role in what the reply calls “the occupying Power’s continuing collective punishment of the Palestinian civilian population”. 

The second reply, dated 16 August, was received from Israel, which expressed its support for UNRWA’s humanitarian mission and recognized its important contribution to the welfare of the Palestinian refugees.  While it believed that UNRWA could be an important vehicle to promote peace and stability in the region, Israel remained concerned with the politicization of the Agency and held that any resolution adopted regarding UNRWA must deal solely with its operations and avoid extraneous political issues introduced to single out one country, prejudice decisions regarding permanent status negotiations and promote the interests of one side of the conflict. 

Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the Report of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (document A/62/181), covering the period from 1 September 2006 to 31 August 2007, in which the Commission observes that since its report of 21 July 2006 (A/61/172, annex) it has nothing new to report.

The Committee also had before it a Letter dated 29 January 2007 from the Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East addressed to the President of the General Assembly (document A/62/64).  It emphasizes the need for hiring additional staff to effect initial implementations of UNRWA’s Organization Development Plan.  It notes that the 20 posts submitted in the Agency’s regular budget of the United Nations for the biennium 2008-2009 were specifically aimed at providing UNRWA with hitherto largely inexistent capacity in strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation, central management, resource mobilization and support to its intergovernmental governance instruments, and endorsed the staffing proposals.

Statements On Mine Action

ROMAN HUNGER ( Switzerland) noted that 2007 was the tenth anniversary of the signature of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (Mine Ban Convention), whose implementation had made it possible to effectively combat the threat of anti-personnel mines.  He welcomed the entry into force in November 2006 of the Protocol on Explosive Remnants of War, known as Protocol V, and the 1980 Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects (Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons).  That was the only instrument of international humanitarian law that covered the problem of unexploded and abandoned munitions.  Hopefully, discussions on cluster munitions currently taking place in international forums would lead to the conclusion of a new instrument that would further strengthen the measures being taken to eliminate the humanitarian consequences of unexploded and abandoned munitions.  In the meantime, he called on the remaining 40 or so States that had yet to commit themselves to banning anti-personnel mines to accede to the Mine Ban Convention.

He said national authorities had a crucial role to play.  The United Nations Mine Action Service also played an important role as the focal point for mine action in the United Nations.  Switzerland’s own mine-action strategy for 2008-2011, currently being formulated, would seek to maintain the allocation of approximately $14 million per year for mine clearance, mine-risk education, victim assistance and advocacy activities.  Support would also be given to the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, whose Implementation Support Unit assisted Member States in implementing the Mine Ban Convention.  In terms of assistance to victims and survivors, Switzerland co-chaired the Standing Committee on Victim Assistance and Socio-Economic Reintegration with Afghanistan in 2006, where it actively promoted implementation of national victim assistance strategies, be they victims of mines or cluster munitions.

ROD KEMP(Australia), noting that mine action was an important part of his country’s overseas aid program, said it had been a leading contributor to international mine-clearance efforts, survivor assistance, mine-risk education and integrated mine-action programmes, which assisted survivors in rebuilding their livelihoods.  In July 2005, Australia renewed its mine-action efforts by committing $75 million over the next five years.  The majority of its assistance was provided to mine-affected countries in its region, including Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Viet Nam and Sri Lanka.  It was also helping to build peace and security through the clearance of landmines and explosive remnants of war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon.

He said his country was increasingly focused on integrated mine action, which placed mine clearance within the broader development context, integrating mine action with community development activities for disadvantaged mine-affected communities.  Australia sought to reduce the direct and indirect impacts of landmines and explosive remnants of war, while also contributing to sustainable economic and social development.  In Cambodia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, it was partnering with Australian non-governmental organizations in integrated programmes to provide livelihood assistance, land-mapping and titling, community infrastructure development and water and sanitation facilities.  It had also established the position of Special Representative on Mine Action, which played an important role in ensuring Australia’s commitment to mine action and encouraging effective global coordination.  Australia was using its role as President of the Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Convention to advance international mine action and the universalization of that Convention.

ELSA HAILE ( Eritrea) said landmines were not only a security problem, but also a humanitarian one.  They were “silent killers”, destroying the lives of many innocent people.  Unexploded ordnance posed a danger to millions in many conflict zones, such as Eritrea, where about one third of the country was infested with landmines.  At the Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World in 2004, it was announced that Eritrea was one of the nine most-affected countries in the world.  For that reason, the Government considered mine clearance to be one of the highest priorities for the nation’s rehabilitation and development, following the 30-year war for independence, and the recent border conflicts with Ethiopia.

She said that Eritrea had a national mine-clearance centre, which fell under the purview of the Ministry of Defence.  It received bilateral expert assistance in planning, organizing and training.  However, while allowing foreign donors to assist with infrastructure building, Eritrea aimed to become self-reliant.  In addition, after signing the Algiers Peace Agreements with Ethiopia, the Eritrean Government established the Eritrean Demining Commission to coordinate mine-clearance operations with the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).  That body was then succeeded by the National Demining Authority, as a result of whose work more than 1,000 anti-personnel mines, more than 900 anti-tank mines and more than 52,000 unexploded ordnances had been removed since 2001.  The Government would begin integrating mine victims into the decision-making process.

ASIM IFTIKHAR AHMAD ( Pakistan) said the recent progress in making mine clearance and mine action more effective was praiseworthy, and the resulting global decline in civilian casualties was encouraging.  Yet, while mine action was supporting peacekeeping efforts and humanitarian and development activities around the world, much remained to be done.  The lives of millions of civilians continued to be affected by mines and explosive remnants of war in various old and new situations of armed conflict.  Continued and enhanced international support, assistance and coordination were required in mine-risk education, rehabilitation of mine victims, advancement, use, sharing and transfer of new technologies to support mine action and the development of national capacities and ownership.

He also stressed the importance of focusing on the main objective of reducing the humanitarian and socio-economic threats posed by mines.  Specifically, the Committee’s discussion on the mine-assistance agenda item should remain focused on mine clearance.  That should also be the main thrust of United Nations mine-action efforts.  Non-parties to the Mine Ban Convention had also contributed significantly to mine action, however, any attempt to impose Treaty obligations on non-States parties in the name of assistance in mine clearance and mine action should not be allowed.  There was no justification for an advocacy role for the United Nations for the universalization of treaties or conventions, which did not take into account States’ positions and concerns.  Such efforts, apart from raising questions over their legality or value, risked undermining the consensus and collective efforts around the objectives of humanitarian mine clearance.  Technical issues, such as the detectability of mines other than those that were anti-personnel, should be discussed at the appropriate forums.

Pakistan supported the eventual elimination of anti-personnel mines, yet it was unable to join the Mine Ban Treaty, owing to legitimate security concerns, he said.  Realization of that ban would be difficult until viable alternatives were available.  However, as a party to the Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, Pakistan had regulated the use of anti-personnel mines.  It had also produced only detectable anti-personnel mines since 1997, and had also declared a voluntary and unilateral moratorium on the export of landmines since then.   His country would be inclined to negotiate an international legal instrument against the transfer of anti-personnel mines at the Conference on Disarmament.  It was also contributing to mine-clearance efforts in a number of countries around the world.

PAVLO OREL ( Ukraine), aligning his country with the statement made on behalf of the European Union, recognized the role played by the United Nations Mine Action Service in the fields of policy-making, coordination and advocacy.  The readiness of the United Nations to implement suggestions from Member States on coordination, integration and prioritization, scope of mine action, political commitment and information-sharing was particularly praiseworthy.  Ukraine believed that national mine-action strategies should be set up with a view to ensuring effective decision-making about short-, medium- and long-term priority.  The needs of mine-affected communities should set the basic parameters for assistance.  Also, the allure of operational mine clearance should not deflect attention from other aspects of mine action like victim assistance, social rehabilitation and stockpile destruction.  Towards those goals, timely mobilization of resources from donors was essential.

He said that the provision of additional technical and financial assistance should be considered, not only for mine clearance, but for the destruction of stockpiles and the disposal of unexploded ordnance in countries where they posed problems for post-conflict reconstruction and development, health, security and the environment.  Efforts to establish national capacities should also continue.  Ukraine regrettably experienced the problems resulting from uncontrolled use of mines, including from old ammunition and unexploded ordnance from the Second World War.  It had undertaken measures to overcome the consequences of the recent emergency situation at the “notorious” artillery base 275 in the Zaporizhya region.  The three fires that had occurred at the base from 2004 to 2006 had resulted in the detonation of approximately 57,000 to 60,000 tonnes of ammunition, and rocket-propelled ammunition was dispersed over 40 kilometres.  More than 125 hectares, or 85.7 per cent of the base, which had been contaminated, had been cleared, and more than 16,100 tonnes of ammunition had been deactivated and destroyed.  Environmental monitoring had also been carried out.

Ukraine had valuable experience in modern mine-clearance technologies, and its advanced logistics base allowed for the training of highly skilled specialists within a short period of time, he said.  Its units operated under United Nations standards and operational procedures, and Ukraine was ready to provide technical support experience to the United Nations missions in various countries.  Convinced that the prohibition of the production, use, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines should become the ultimate goal of the international community, Ukraine was confident that that goal could be reached only if all parties spared no effort in the proper implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty.

EZZIDIN BELKHEIR ( Libya) noted that millions of mines had been planted throughout his country by various members of the allied and axis Powers during the Second World War.  He also noted that the General Assembly had placed priority on mine clearance, which eventually led to the creation of the Mine Ban Treaty.  However, despite all the momentum in the area of mine clearance, those responsible for planting landmines in his country had yet to provide the Libyan Government with maps revealing their whereabouts.  Nor had they provided the proper equipment and expertise for mine-clearance activities, or made any provisions to compensate and rehabilitate mine victims.  He reaffirmed the importance of Protocol V of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, but said it should be amended to emphasize the importance of clearing mines planted by States in other countries.

ANNE LUZONGO MTAMBOH ( Zambia) said there were contaminated areas along the country’s borders, despite its not having been involved in intra- or inter-State conflict.  Zambia’s men, women and children had been maimed as a result, and the economic activity and development of those affected areas had been displaced or disrupted.  The Government had taken responsibility to fund, as far as possible, the clearing of all known mined areas by 2011.  Preliminary surveys had determined the possible areas of contamination, and 7 of the 41 areas identified as being mined had been cleared.  Still, limited funding had prevented a comprehensive nationwide survey.  Indeed, the Government required more assistance from cooperating partners to be able to achieve the 2011 targets. 

She expressed appreciation for the United Nations Mine Action programmes which had supported Zambia in destroying its anti-personnel mine stockpiles, and had helped it meet its clearance deadline, remove blockages to communities and improve national economic development and create a residual mine-action capacity to clear newly discovered mines.  The Completion Initiative was progressing well in Zambia.  Noting that the total cost of the Completion Initiative would be less than $5 million, she requested cooperating partners to provide $3 million for the implementation.  With adequate funding, Zambia could ensure the destruction of anti-personnel mines.  Zambia also stood ready to participate in regional efforts to develop a comprehensive treaty to prohibit the possession, production, use and transfer of all custom munitions that caused unacceptable harm to civilians.

CLAUDIA BLUM (Colombia), aligning herself with the statement made yesterday on behalf of the Common Market of the South(MERCOSUR), said that her Government had created an anti-anti-personnel mines programme in July as an answer to the indiscriminate use of those devices by illegal armed groups in Colombia.  Government activities on landmines were decentralized, and local and municipal capacity to implement a comprehensive programme against mines had been strengthened.  The most-affected municipalities were sensitized through education campaigns on the dangers of landmines.

As for assistance to mine victims, she said work was being conducted with the Government of Japan to strengthen the capacity of university hospitals in two of the most-affected areas of the country, so as to improve rehabilitation services.  Nationally, efforts were being made to review existing laws governing the rights of victims, but more needed to be done.  In addition, the Government has dismantled the anti-personnel mine industry, and destroyed more than 21,000 mines belonging to the National Armed Forces.  The military had originally set aside 886 mines for training purposes, but those would soon be destroyed, given the risk of their landing in the wrong hands.  Mine clearance was also proceeding apace, including in areas occupied by indigenous communities in the south.

However, illegal armed groups continued to use those explosive devices as a way to stop the advance of the National Armed Forces and to intimidate the population, she said.  For that reason, United Nations support to Colombia should continue, especially in providing assistance to victims and strengthening the capacities of national and local institutions involved in eradicating landmines.

Concluding the debate on assistance in mine action, Vice Chairperson VIKTORIIA KUVSHYNNYKOVA ( Ukraine) said that action on the related draft resolution would be postponed to a later date, at the request of the document’s co-sponsors.

The Committee then began its consideration of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Statement By Commissioner-General

KAREN KONING ABUZAYD, Commissioner-General of UNRWA, began by noting that, seven years after the outbreak of the second intifada, the demands crowding in on the Agency from all sides had come against a backdrop of seemingly endemic crises in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  In addition, the conflict in the Nahr el-Bared camp in Lebanon over the summer had sent more than 30,000 Palestine refugees fleeing, some for the third time in their lives.  The upcoming Annapolis peace meeting, expected to be hosted by the United States Government in the coming weeks, held out the prospect of re-launching the peace process.  Hopefully, that meeting would lead to a serious process of negotiations, culminating in due course in an independent, viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian State. 

She noted that May 2008 would mark the sixtieth anniversary of Israel’s establishment by the United Nations, and also mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Palestinian naqba -- when around 750,000 inhabitants of British Mandate Palestine fled or were forcefully expelled to neighbouring territories.  Having also recently marked the fortieth anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, she said it was time that the issue of refugees was resolved.  When agreement was reached on a just solution to the refugees, whom UNWRA assisted, now numbering 4.5 million, the Agency would be ready for transition to a new phase.  Until that happened, the international community needed to continue its support of UNRWA.

Humanitarian relief remained an essential feature of UNRWA’s work, given the persistent levels of poverty and unemployment in some of the Agency’s five fields of operations ( Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip), she said.  Likewise, times of emergency demanded a response in support of those made homeless or otherwise affected by armed conflict.  Meanwhile, UNRWA’s education, vocational training, health, camp improvement and microfinance programmes continued to make up the building blocks for human development and the promotion of self-reliance for Palestine refugees.

She said that the education programme absorbed almost half of the Agency’s regular budget, and allowed 500,000 children to go through primary and preparatory cycles in UNRWA-run schools before continuing on to secondary and tertiary education.  It was a matter of concern, however, that years of under-investment in UNRWA’s schools and teachers, combined with the consequences of poor economic prospects and violent conflict, had begun to take a serious toll on the Agency’s achievements in education.  Also, at a time when the Jordanian educational system was absorbing large numbers of children of Iraqi refugees, there was an urgent need to invest in improvements in UNRWA’s schools in Jordan.

In Gaza specifically, she said there was a high failure rate for pupils, leading UNWRA to hire 1,500 remedial teachers.  On a positive note, the Agency had been able to stage a highly successful “summer games” programme, which kept almost 200,000 children entertained during the two-month school holidays, giving them a break from the tensions and violence that surrounded them each day.

In terms of health, she said that UNRWA’s doctors and primary health facilities suffered from overcrowding and outdated equipment.  Lack of funding had also prevented it from being able to respond adequately to the increasing prevalence of hypertension, cancer and heart disease, along with psychosocial and congenital ailments.  In Gaza, however, external factors rather than the Agency’s funding difficulties were largely to blame for the sharp decline in health standards.  De facto sanctions for almost two years had resulted in growing malnutrition, stunting growth in young children.  Restrictions imposed by the occupying Power resulted in hospitals being deprived of equipment and supplies –- 91 drugs were currently at zero stocks in Gaza, including many for children.  The closure of the Erez and Rafah crossings had meant that many seriously ill people were denied the opportunity to seek treatment in Israel, the West Bank and Egypt.

She said that UNRWA’s relief and social services programme provided a social safety-net for the poorest refugees, and was a source of food, cash and other forms of one-time assistance, such as the repair of dilapidated shelters.  However, only a small fraction of the number of shelters deemed in urgent need of repairs or reconstruction had been improved so far, since that activity was funded through supplementary assistance from donors.  Also, because many of the 58 refugee camps across UNRWA’s areas of operations were in poor condition, the Agency had decided to consolidate its infrastructure and shelter-related activities in a new department, which was expected to lead to a comprehensive and holistic approach to camp improvement.

Turning to UNRWA’s emergency assistance, she said the emergency appeal for the West bank and Gaza Strip last year was for $171 million and was relatively well-funded, at over 80 per cent.  Unfortunately, the response for 2007 had fallen to about half the amount needed:  $125 million pledged against an appeal for $246 million.  Around 80 per cent of the population there was dependent on food rations provided by UNRWA and the World Food Programme.  In the West Bank, Palestinians were suffering grievously in areas affected by the construction of the illegal separation barrier and expanding settlements.  Some 30 per cent of the population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were registered refugees.  Meanwhile, in Lebanon, UNRWA faced the task of caring for those displaced by the fighting that erupted in and around Nahr el-Bared refugee camp in June.  An initial flash appeal had received generous support, while a second appeal for $55 million received $20 million in pledges.

Despite the best efforts of major donors, she said that UNRWA faced a serious funding shortfall in 2007.  The budgeted expenditure of $505.6 million, compared with a projected income of $413 million, left a funding gap of more than $92 million.  The financial outlook for 2008 was cause for concern, since the budgeted expenditure of $544.6 million compared with projections of income of $425 million left a funding gap of $119.6 million.  As a result, some components of the Agency’s activities would only be put in operation as funds became available in the course of the biennium.  That meant that much-needed improvements in the quality of programmes and facilities would have to be postponed.  Also, the Agency was unable to afford increases in salary for staff, who were, in turn, facing rising costs of living.

Concerning UNRWA staff, they had shown courage and commitment over the last 18 months, despite a harsh de facto sanctions regime imposed on the Occupied Palestinian Territory by the international community.  They were on the ground during the fierce internal armed conflict in Gaza, and were also present during the heavy bombardment in the Lebanon conflict in the summer of 2006.  They had also been on hand to help the Nahr el-Bared refugees this past summer.  Two staff members in Gaza and one in Lebanon were killed.  Incidentally, UNRWA’s Palestinian staff were the only United Nations employees in Israel and the Occupied Territory that did not receive hazard pay.

She said the Agency had embarked in a three-year organizational development plan in late 2006 to reform its human resources management, procurement information and communications technology and the simplification of business processes.  So far, it had raised $14.3 million out of the $28.5 million required to implement that plan.  A handful of international staff had been recruited, whose positions were funded temporarily by the development budget, but it was essential that they be mainstreamed into the United Nations regular budget to ensure that those staff were retained in the years ahead.  She thanked the 24 members of the Advisory Commission and observers for their “genuine interest” in, and support of, UNRWA.  She also thanked the Palestinian Authority, and the Governments of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon for their support.

Finally, she noted that Syria and Jordan bore the brunt of the exodus of more than 2 million refugees from Iraq, among them, a small number of Palestine refugees.  While their arrival had had no direct consequence for the Palestinians living in their territories, indirect effects were discernible in the form of a strain on public facilities.  Some of those fleeing persecution in Baghdad were encamped in desolate and harsh conditions on the Syrian and Iraqi borders.  In support of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), she appealed to all parties concerned, in the region and beyond, to take urgent measures to alleviate their suffering.  She called also for the support of Member States to renew UNRWA’s three-year mandate, which was set to expire next June.

Interactive Dialogue

The representative of Syria asked if, as the Gaza Strip continued to be under occupation, and in light of Israel’s control of the six entry points, an advisory opinion should be sought from the International Court of Justice regarding the measures taken by Israel in preventing the food supplement from reaching the country, and on Israel’s measures to cut the power and water supply to the Gaza Strip.  He asked what UNRWA thought of such a request to the court.  He also asked the Commissioner-General to clarify details regarding the description by an official in the Gaza Strip of the collapse of educational standards, owing to the poverty, violence and the consequences of the occupation quoted in her statement.

The representative of Iran asked if the Agency could hire more Palestinian staff, and if it was the Agency’s policy to hire Palestinian refugees.

Responding to Syria’s question, the Commissioner-General said that it was up to Member States, and not UNRWA, to comment on the possibility of seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice.

To the other questions, she noted that many people had been on food rations for many years although that ration was not sustainable.  In addition, supplements of fruit and other foods were no longer available because UNRWA lacked transportation funds.  Crossings needed to be opened, and transportation should be available.  The power had not been cut, despite the threats.  Still, those threats were almost as damaging as cuts because of their unsettling effects on the population.

In terms of the educational situation, she said there were failure rates of up to 80 per cent.  Among the steps taken by the Agency to pull up the standards, remedial training had been started immediately, and class size had been reduced to 30 students, particularly in boys’ classes. 

Responding to Iran’s question, she said that UNRWA had 28,000 area or local staff, and almost all of those were Palestinians, mainly refugees. 

The representative of the United Arab Emirates asked if there was a plan of action to increase the Agency’s budget, and if there was a plan to approach States.  If there were such plans, he asked how those would be implemented, and, more generally, what means were available to the Agency to increase the budget.

The Commissioner-General said that there was a “donorship” plan to work through the Advisory Commission.  Efforts were also under way to improve the presentation of the Agency’s budget plan and to address the deficit.  The Agency now had a special fundraising adviser, particularly for the Arab world.  UNRWA was also attempting to increase its fundraising base, including by working with donors to make the donations more predictable.  There were also discussions to have an “innovation fund” to attract new donors.

Introduction of Report

JONAS CARSTEN JØLLE (Norway), introducing the Report of the Working Group on the Financing of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) (document A/62/361), urged Governments to fully fund the Agency’s budget for the biennium 2008-2009 to enable it to reverse the effects of successive years of under-funding, bring services up to host Government standards, rehabilitate infrastructure and improve the Agency’s capacity to evaluate and manage its programmes.  In view of the growing humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Group recognized the critical humanitarian role the Agency’s emergency operations were playing in alleviating the refugees’ hardship and preventing an even greater decline in their living conditions.  Noting that 80 per cent of the Gaza Strip’s registered refugees were currently dependent on UNRWA food aid for their essential subsistence, it called for the appeal to be fully funded by donors and invited non-traditional donors to also contribute.

He said the Group welcomed the Agency’s strengthened focus on strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation of programmes and its commitment to results-based management.  It noted with satisfaction the Agency’s progress during 2006 and 2007 in implementing the three-year organization development programme.  It also urged Member States to continue to provide financial support for its implementation, and called for the early and complete fulfilment of pledges and other commitments to UNRWA, in particular the reimbursement of value-added tax by the Palestinian Authority and port and related charges by the Government of Israel.  UNRWA played a vital role in preserving the stability and security of the region, and the continued commitment of the international community to the refugees remained essential in the absence of a just and durable solution to the problem, and in light of continuing conflicts in the region.

Statements

RIYAD H. MANSOUR, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, noting that UNRWA played a central role in providing assistance to the Palestine refugees and in preserving their rights and acting as a protecting presence since its establishment, reaffirmed the need for the continuation of the Agency’s mandate.  In light of the approaching sixtieth anniversary of the creation of the Palestine refugee problem, he echoed the Commissioner-General’s call for the international community to redouble its efforts to secure a just and lasting solution to the plight of the Palestine refugees.

Turning to the UNRWA Commissioner-General’s report, he noted that the Agency had continued to effectively operate and provide valuable assistance to the Palestine refugees in all fields of its operation, despite financial constraints and difficult conditions on the ground over the past year.  UNRWA had been forced to expand emergency-related programmes and had launched additional appeals for funds for urgent aid, as the situation of Palestine refugees in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Lebanon and Iraq had worsened. 

Israel continued its military assaults and raids on Palestinian population centres, including refugee camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, inflicting human and material loss, he went on.  It had also continued to collectively punish the Palestinian people by imposing prolonged closures on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly on the Gaza Strip, and severe restrictions on movement, which had negatively impacted the refugees and UNRWA’s operations.  Israel’s imposition of more than 500 checkpoints in the West Bank, its continuing unlawful construction of the wall and settlements, and its “racist” permit regime had impaired the economy and affected UNRWA services, particularly in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.

He said that, in Gaza, unemployment and poverty had soared, owing to Israel’s polices and practices and the enduring consequences of the international aid boycott of the Palestinian Authority in 2006.  In turn, demand for UNRWA services had risen, including by many refugees who had sought assistance for the first time after decades of self-reliance.  That cyclical rise in refugee needs and demands for UNRWA services in the Occupied Palestinian Territory had been a common pattern.  The ultimate responsibility for that situation was Israel’s, and that issue should be a major concern to Member Sates, particularly donor countries, who were repeatedly called on to provide emergency funding.

In Lebanon, the situation of the Palestine refugees remained difficult, particularly in the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp following the outbreak of fighting in May, between the Lebanese army and the so-called Fateh al-Islam militant group, he noted.  The fighting had caused extensive loss of life and destruction throughout the camp, including to UNRWA facilities.  In Iraq, the situation of Palestine refugees also remained critical.  Although many of those refugees were not covered by UNRWA’s mandate, the Agency had tried to help them in coordination with UNHCR.

He said that all of those developments affected UNRWA’s operations and placed added strain on its human and financial resources.  He reiterated that the Agency was entitled under the law to carry out its mandate free from harassment, intimidation, obstruction and destruction.  Israel should cease its illegal action against the Agency and its staff, and should immediately lift all restrictions on the movement and access of UNRWA staff, vehicles and supplies.  He expressed concern about reported incidents of Palestinian violations of UNRWA facilities and violence towards staff, and assured the Agency that the Palestinian Authority rejected those actions and was doing its utmost to bring them to an end.  It also regretted that the majority of UNRWA’s international staff had been relocated from the Gaza Strip due to the instability of the situation there, which had worsened, owing to the illegitimate actions of Palestinian militias.  He hoped that the situation in Gaza would be restored to what had existed prior to June 2007.  The occupying Power should cease its illegal policies and practices in the Gaza Strip.  The Palestinian Authority also hoped that UNRWA’s international staff would return to its Gaza Strip headquarters in the near future.

He urged all States, specialized agencies and non-governmental organizations to continue supporting UNRWA’s valuable programmes and assistance to Palestine refugees.  UNRWA was playing an indispensable role, and he expressed the hope that the General Assembly would again firmly support the resolutions under that agenda item and pursue their implementation to redress the plight of the Palestine refugees and provide them with basic needs and human dignity, until a just resolution to their plight was achieved. 

BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria) noted that Israel had derived its legitimacy from a United Nations resolution, yet continued to refuse to bring an end to the “Palestinian tragedy” that it had itself precipitated.  For many years, it had ridden roughshod over United Nations resolutions, which had become a hallmark of its conduct.  Israel continued to prevent the return of Palestinian refugees to their rightful home, instead encouraging settlers -- alien to the region -- to take over those people’s homes and lands, in blatant disregard of international law.  In addition, it had no qualms about conducting targeted killings, which had been condemned by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. 

He recalled that the Special Rapporteur had said that Israeli military forces had increased the frequency of raids in the West Bank, in violation of the Geneva Convention.  It had also violated international laws prohibiting the imposition of collective punishment on people under occupation.  It had used indiscriminate and excessive use of force against civilians, destroyed water and power supplies, shelled public buildings and restricted the movement of peoples.  It had sought to destroy families and bring psychological damage to the Palestinian people, reminiscent of the crimes committed by the Nazis.

He reminded the Committee that, as reported by the Commissioner-General of UNRWA in the past, Israel had violated a 1946 Convention that had set out the inviolability of United Nations premises, and the Comay-Michelmore exchange of letters, obliging it to guarantee the safety of UNRWA personnel and property.  The Agency’s facilities had been subjected to forcible entry and obstruction by the Israeli military, and its staff detained.  Three schools had been fired upon from Israeli positions.  He voiced support for thecalls on Israel to provide compensation for any damage inflicted, adding that Israel should be held accountable by the Security Council for crimes committed against UNRWA. 

Israeli acts of aggression against Lebanon had brought suffering to Palestinian refugees as well, he said.  Also, an Israeli air strike had destroyed a power plant in the Gaza Strip, which provided half the territory’s electricity and drove its water and sewage pumps.  Recently, Israel had made a decision to deprive the Gaza Strip of water and electricity.  Indeed, the living conditions faced by Palestinians were similar to those of the South Africans under the apartheid regime. 

He said that Syria had provided all forms of support and assistance to the Palestinians living in its territory, without discrimination.  It had assumed a major financial burden in its vigorous pursuit of a decent life for Palestinian refugees living in Syria, pending their return to their homeland.  It would continue doing so, in cooperation with UNRWA.  Meanwhile, UNRWA should do its utmost to expand its donor base, so that it could continue to work to improve the lives of refugees.  He called on Member States to support the Agency’s request to finance 20 international staff members, to respond to its emergency appeals, and to reaffirm the Agency’s mandate.  He commended UNRWA staff for working under dangerous circumstances, without hazard pay.  He also called on the United Nations to hold Israel accountable, before the Security Council, for assassinations carried out in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and neighbouring States.

REBECA HERNÁNDEZ TOLEDANO ( Cuba) said the tragic deterioration of the political, economic, social and humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, as a consequence of the ongoing illegal practices of, and human rights violations by, the occupying Power, remained a matter of concern.  Israel’s unilateral measures against the Territory were a serious threat to the achievement of a negotiated settlement and the two-State solution.  Israeli actions regarding Gaza, including selective assassinations, border blockades and collective punishments, had turned Gaza into a closed area in which the inhabitants were prisoners.  Because of financial measures, the poverty rate had increased by 30 per cent, and 80 per cent of the population lived in extreme poverty.  Israel must return the revenues it still owed to the Palestinian Authority and stop imposing closures on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.

She said UNRWA was forced to carry out its work under very harsh conditions, as the Israeli authorities continued to impose unacceptable conditions on the free movement of Agency personnel, goods and vehicles.  Moreover, Israel persisted in demanding that the Agency pay tolls for containers passing through the Karni crossing.  Cuba endorsed the request in the report of the UNRWA Commission that the Israeli authorities return the taxes they had collected.  Cuba welcomed the institutional development process taking place within UNRWA with a view to strengthening its capacity to provide more efficient services to the Palestine refugees, and she reiterated the importance of the Agency receiving all necessary support and guarantees to carry out its work.

SALMAN AL-KHULAIFI ( Qatar) said the services extended by UNRWA allowed Palestinian refugees to live a productive life.  The Agency’s role was vital and irreplaceable since those refugees would continue to face problems until a resolution to the conflict was found.  Last year, with the condition of the refugees deteriorating, the Gaza Strip had reached economic collapse and the refugees there had become more dependent on aid.  The fighting in Lebanon’s Nahr al-Bayed camp had threatened the refugees there.  In Iraq, militias had put Palestine refugees at risk.

Meanwhile, UNRWA was facing an immense deficit, he said, calling on donor countries to provide funding so the Agency could continue extending assistance to the refugees.  UNRWA could not continue without financial contributions from donors.  Qatar provided moral and financial assistance to the refugees. 

He said the strategic approach pursued by UNRWA was increasing its ability to provide assistance.  It had undertaken a reform effort similar to that being undertaken by the United Nations and would require additional international staff.  Qatar paid tribute to UNRWA personnel, who continued to face harassment by the Israeli authorities.

GERSHON KEDAR ( Israel) said that, despite concerns regarding the politicization of UNRWA, Israel supported its humanitarian mission and would continue to work in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation with the Agency.  At the same time, resolutions regarding UNRWA should deal solely with its operations and avoid extraneous political issues that singled out one Member State, prejudiced decisions pertaining to permanent status negotiations, and promoted the interests of one party in the conflict.

He said that UNRWA’s report on its activities for 2006 would have been different had the Palestinian leadership used Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip to promote the well-being of its people.  Instead, led by Hamas, a “terrorist group bent on destroying Israel”, the Palestinian leadership had furthered its campaign of terrorism against Israeli citizens.  It would certainly have known that Israel’s legitimate activities in self-defence would cause a negative impact on the economic and social conditions of Palestinians in the area. 

Meanwhile, he said, the international community, led by the Diplomatic Quartet (United States, Russian Federation, European Union, United Nations), had laid down principles upon which any assistance to the Palestinian Authority was to be reviewed, namely, commitment to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations.  The Commissioner-General’s report had talked of the suspension of international donor funding to the Palestinian Authority, but had neglected to mention the Quartet principles.  Nor had the report referred to the terrorist nature of Hamas.  The report had also neglected to discuss how terrorist activities by Palestinians had restricted UNRWA’s activities.

He recalled that the Advisory Commission, in its letter, had expressed concerns that restrictions imposed by Israel would lead to further hardships for Palestinians.  He assured the Committee that Israel had had no desire to impose hardships on Palestinians, and had fully recognized the importance of enabling the Palestinian economy to develop.  At the same time, Israel had the responsibility to do all it could to prevent the killing and maiming of its citizens, and was determined to protect its citizens, as well as to make progress in the peace process.  Indeed, in 2006, more than 2,135 terrorist attacks had been carried out against Israel.  Two suicide bombings had been carried out in Tel Aviv; 32 Israelis had been killed and 332 wounded, including civilians among them.  The number of rockets fired at civilians in southern Israel had quadrupled since the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.  Israeli security services had prevented 71 suicide-bombing attempts.

He acknowledged the fact that crossing points were often closed, but added that that was the result of rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian terrorist groups, supported by Hamas, against the very crossing points used to supply the inhabitants of Gaza with food and essential supplies.  The terrorists were using those attacks to paint Israel as an aggressor, when it was terrorism that made the closures necessary.  The terrorists did not distinguish between civilians and combatants, not just regarding the targets of their attacks, but also regarding their launching points.  For instance, last week, mortars were fired from the Gaza Strip from the yard of an UNRWA elementary school in Beit Hanoun.

Israel viewed UNRWA’s programmes on human rights, conflict resolution and tolerance positively, he said.  However, it was concerned by the reliance on textbooks supplied by host States, which denied Israel’s right to exist or ignored Israel’s existence and promoted negative stereotypical views of Jews, Judaism and Israel.  That undermined the possibility of deepening popular support for peace.  Such a situation was unacceptable, and Israel called on UNRWA to do what it could to ensure that its educational programmes did not deepen hatred and animosity.

He said that developments in 2006 had not allowed progress towards a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The international community should do all it could to ensure that, with the leadership changes in the Palestinian Authority, and based on Israel’s determination to promote a two-State solution, it would see progress towards real peace.

HAMAD OBAID IBRAHIM ALZAABI (United Arab Emirates) said that his delegation, which had closely monitored the substantial efforts made by UNRWA, was deeply alarmed at the continuing deterioration of the conditions of the Palestine refugees during the last few months, especially in north and south Lebanon, where the violent attacks targeting Nahr el-Bared Camp had resulted in the displacement of its inhabitants, once again, and caused significant damage to UNRWA’s humanitarian relief activities.  He strongly condemned the grave violations committed by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and camps, and called on the international community to demand that Israel cease its constant attacks against the refugee camps, as well as remove all obstacles to the Agency’s relief efforts and refugee resettlement.

Additionally, he said, while he appreciated the programmes of, and measures taken, by UNRWA, he was concerned about the continuing financial shortfall in the Agency’s regular budget, where the financing gap had reached $71.5 million in 2006 and was anticipated to rise to $100 million this year.  He reiterated his call to all Member States to double their regular and non-regular contributions to UNRWA’s budget.  In order to prevent the worsening of humanitarian need and the Agency’s ability to deliver it, he emphasized the need for Member States to:  assist the Agency in management reform to strengthen the efficiency and effectiveness of its programmes; allow it to fulfil its mandate in the five major regions of operations, without discrimination; help it to develop the infrastructure of the Palestinian camps; and enable it to involve refugee communities in the process of designing and implementing social services for camp inhabitants.

HJÁLMAR W. HANNESSON ( Iceland) said the 2006 annual report from UNRWA showed that, despite times of exceptional hardship and suffering in the region, the Agency had been able to deliver substantial results.  Under often life-threatening conditions, UNRWA’s staff showed relentless dedication to the Agency’s responsibilities.  It also worked determinedly towards improving the human development of the 4.4 million refugees it served.  Thus, the Government of Iceland regarded UNRWA as its main partner in its support of Palestine refugees.  Iceland welcomed the three-year organizational development reform that UNRWA was undertaking and believed that the results of those efforts would translate into a more agile and strategic Agency better equipped to fulfil its mandate.  Still, it was clear that for those reforms to be successful, the low number of international staff allocated to UNRWA had to be addressed.  The Agency’s funding from the United Nations regular budget should also be reviewed, and his country was willing to support such efforts during this year’s programme budget negotiations.  Moreover, Iceland was willing to offer secondment as a support to UNRWA.

He said it was disturbing that restrictions on movement and access in the Occupied Palestinian Territory were seriously affecting the Agency’s work.  Other restrictions had resulted in considerable direct costs for UNRWA that the under-funded agency could not afford.  It was also continuing to face unprecedented restriction in access to communities in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem.  It should be remembered that UNRWA was an arm of the United Nations and that its access should be facilitated, and not hindered.  He called on Israeli authorities to ease access in and out of Gaza, for both humanitarian reasons and commercial flows.  Also, necessary security measures should not entail collective punishment, which could not be justified under any circumstances.  Crossings in and out of Gaza were essential to ensure the viability of the Palestinian economy.

Noting that pessimism was gaining ground, he said that history had repeatedly shown that despair bred division and extremism, which often further aggravated already serious social conditions.  Thus, UNRWA’s presence and provision of services were more crucial than ever in Gaza.  In light of recent signs for hope and optimism in the region, UNRWA was ever more important, not least as an element of stability.  Thus, Iceland had decided to increase its contribution to the Agency to $300,000 for 2008, and to $500,000 for 2009.

HELENA MALCATA ( Portugal), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the humanitarian and economic situation affecting refugees continued to cause concern, especially the situation of children.  All parties in the region should give children special protection and fully respect their rights.  The European Union was particularly concerned about the situation in Gaza, where nearly 80 per cent of the inhabitants were living in extreme poverty, amid a deteriorating situation following recent violent events.  The European Union called on all parties to work urgently for the reopening of crossings in and out of Gaza for both humanitarian and commercial reasons.

She noted the potentially severe humanitarian consequences of any decision to reduce fuel and electricity supplies to Gaza.  While condemning the unacceptable and continued attacks on Israeli territory, and recognizing Israel’s right of self-defence, the European Union emphasized the need to weigh carefully the negative impact of such measures on a civilian population already living under difficult conditions.  All parties should ensure full and secure access for all humanitarian personnel and goods, as required by the principles and practices of international humanitarian law, and reiterated by the road map.  The European Union welcomed Israel’s resumed transfers of withheld Palestinian tax revenues.

PHAN THI KIM HONG ( Viet Nam) commended the work of UNRWA, which currently is mandated to serve about 4.6 million refugees, but acknowledged that a large area of ground still needed to be covered to overcome obstacles to bring services to the Palestine Refugees.  She drew the donor community’s attention to the Agency’s seriously under-funded budget for 2006-2007.  Noting that 80 per cent of refugees in the Gaza Strip were dependent on food aid from UNRWA, she was deeply concerned with the day-to-day gravity of the humanitarian situation suffered by the refugees, which had been deepened by the increasing violence and Israel’s restrictions on the freedom of movement of the Agency’s personnel, vehicles and goods in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. 

She called on Israeli authorities to perform their obligations under the Comay-Michelmore Agreement of 1967 and under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to help the Agency to fulfil its mission.  She urged all States, and United Nations agencies in particular, to give stronger support to the Agency, which she hoped would make greater efforts to closely coordinate and cooperate with other organizations and agencies of the United Nations system. 

CAROLINE ZIADE ( Lebanon), noting that the report had put the Agency’s deficit at $71 million for 2006 and $100 million for 2007, said that such deficits would affect the Agency’s ability to fulfil its mandate.  Lebanon supported efforts by UNRWA to establish 20 additional posts. 

Noting also the difficulties that the Agency had in dispensing its duties due to Israel’s actions, particularly its imprisonment of UNRWA personnel and its attempts to tax UNRWA’s imports, she said that Israel had breached its responsibilities under Security Council resolutions.  That was in addition to the daily transgressions it committed against the Palestinians, the most serious of which was the Israeli Cabinet’s decision with respect to Gaza.  In addition to breaching international law, that decision led to a groundswell of condemnation from the international community, including by the Secretary-General.  That had been accompanied by a statement from the European Union criticizing Israel’s decision to cut power in Gaza.

Noting the conditions of the estimated 400,000 refugees distributed among 12 camps in Lebanon that were referred to in the report, she said her Government was interested in discussing ways to improve the living conditions of the refugees.  The confrontations that had taken place between the Lebanese Army and the terrorists of the Fateh al-Islam, which had lasted for 15 weeks and caused the displacement of 30,000 refugees, had highlighted the fact that terrorism threatened populations without discrimination.  The Government’s actions to address that sedition, which had almost destabilized the country, had been accompanied by efforts to provide aid to the refugees by using the available resources.  Lebanon’s leaders had contributed to the appeal for financial resources to aid the refugees in the Nahr al-Bayed camp.  The number of refugees who had already returned totalled 1,200 families, she added.

Lebanon expected that success in the upcoming United States-sponsored conference on the Middle East would come, not only from an inclusiveness of the agenda, but by linking the work of the conference to binding and clear mechanisms, she said.  It was necessary to resolve the conflict through the full withdrawal of Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian State.  Lebanon hoped that the conference would eventually result in a just solution that allowed the refugees to return to their homeland.

AKIRA ENDO ( Japan) said that encouraging developments for Middle East peace had taken place in the past several months, including recent meetings between Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.  Japan fully supported those efforts and would remain proactively involved in the peace process.  He praised the global community’s efforts in that regard, particularly through the Arab Peace Initiative and frequent visits by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  Indeed, a “window of opportunity” had been opened to revive the peace process.  “We cannot afford to let it slam shut again,” he said.

He explained that his Government addressed the issue of Palestinian refugees in the context of support for the Middle East peace process and as part of a general policy of supporting humanitarian assistance for refugees.  Japan attached importance to assisting them in human resources development, education and vocational training.  However, he was deeply concerned at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and urged global support for the Palestinian people.  Japan had provided $4.3 million in food aid through UNRWA, among other efforts, and would continue to provide assistance based on developments in the humanitarian situation.  He expected that the Agency could improve its efficiency by strengthening management capacity, making optimum use of human resources and allocating the budget on the basis of priority projects.

Right Of Reply

The representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that listening to Israel’s statement could lead one to imagine that there was no occupation and that Israel had no doctrine of terrorism in dealing with Palestine refugees. 

He reminded the Committee and the Israeli delegate that the issue of Palestine refugees was not only a humanitarian issue.  It was, first and foremost, a political issue that largely focused on the right of return of the refugees.  All issues, including the unbearable suffering of the refugees, were caused directly and indirectly by the occupying Power’s prevention of the right of the refugees to return, and their ability to use their assets and pursue their livelihoods.  The occupation army continued to close the Gaza Strip and all its crossings, on which Gaza depended for fuel and food supplies.  That situation put 80 per cent of the population under the poverty level.  John Ging, UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Gaza, had said that 200,000 schoolchildren attending UNRWA schools came to school hungry and unable to concentrate, he noted.

Addressing the relentless Israeli claim that security issues should justify Israel’s infractions and its use of force against the people living in the Occupied Territories, he asked what kind of reaction Israel would find appropriate to the occupation. 

He said that mentioning the Quartet and its efforts were extremely important, as the Quartet had issued a road map for achieving a Palestinian State, which should be followed without any reservations.  The Israeli delegate had chosen to use numbers to make a convincing argument.  He asked the Israeli delegate to inform the Committee of the thousands of weapons it had launched into Gaza and the hundreds of people, including children, who had been killed as a result.  

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.