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Israel slams UN agency over aid to displaced Palestinians

July 15, 2012 7:50 P.M. (Updated: July 17, 2012 11:41 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israel's military department governing civil affairs in the occupied West Bank regards a UN agency's assistance to displaced Palestinians as illegal operations, a spokesman said Sunday.

Israeli daily Haaretz reported earlier that the department, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, are seeking to "reassess" the role of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the West Bank.

The UN office "are assisting Palestinian communities who have demolitions because they are built in an illegal way. OCHA gives them tents and by that is doing illegal work, without seeking Israeli permission," COGAT spokesman Guy Inbar told Ma'an.

Humanitarian officials say providing a temporary tent to a displaced family falls under international definitions of emergency humanitarian assistance, rather than a building project that requires a permit.

Israeli authorities insist there is a legal process for Palestinians living in Area C, the 62 percent of the West Bank under full Israel civil and security control since the 1993 Oslo Accords, to build in their communities.

"In the last year (COGAT) approved many international projects, even UN OCHA projects, but not in an illegal way, like what they are doing in the south Hebron hills," Inbar said, while warning: "International work does not get immunity."

But the United Nations and humanitarian agencies say in reality it is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain a building permit, and highlight that Israeli settlers in the same area are able to expand communities that are illegal under international law.

The south Hebron hills is one area of the West Bank facing repeated demolition orders. Israeli forces last month warned that they intend to demolish all 50 buildings in one village in the region, Susiya, after a settler group filed a legal petition calling for its removal.

A diplomatic source told Ma'an: "It is outrageous that (the Israeli) administration which condones illegal settlement construction is here using an argument against construction that helps some of the most disadvantaged communities, who have the right to protection under international law."

Already in 2012, Israeli authorities have demolished 330 Palestinian buildings in the West Bank, displacing 536 people, half of whom are children, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories Richard Falk said in late June.

Meanwhile international law experts say that under the Fourth Geneva Convention Israel must provide for the needs of the occupied Palestinian population, and are prohibited from demolishing any structure that has a civilian purpose.

Haaretz reported that COGAT asked the Foreign Ministry to lodge a formal complaint with the UN, and on July 10 Israel’s UN ambassador wrote to the UN humanitarian affairs chief asking for staff lists, past and future activities and a review of the agency's role.

Israeli authorities are considering limiting visas for foreign OCHA employees and stopping work and travel permits for Palestinian staff members, the newspaper said.

Inbar said COGAT is perturbed that OCHA is over reaching its mandate through its work in Area C, while OCHA says it does not undertake building projects but is mandated to coordinate international agencies' response to humanitarian emergencies.
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