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UN slams Israeli-imposed closures in Hebron for exacerbating plight of Palestinian refugees

July 25, 2016 4:29 P.M. (Updated: July 25, 2016 10:23 P.M.)
Al-Fawwar refugee camp (Photo: Dominiek Benoot/UNRWA)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine refugees released a statement Monday expressing concern about the humanitarian impact of the weeks-long closures imposed by the Israeli army in the southern occupied West Bank district of Hebron.

The wide-spread closures were implemented following a series of violent incidents in the district at the end of June and throughout July, that resulted in the death of two Israelis, including a 13-year old girl who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian who was shot dead at the scene, two drive-by shooting attacks by gunmen who remained at large -- one of which was fatal -- an alleged attempted stab attack carried out by a Palestinian woman who was shot dead, and another stabbing attack.

UNRWA expressed a particularly deep concern towards residents of Hebron’s al-Fawwar refugee camp, that has been sealed by Israeli forces for 25 consecutive days, affecting approximately 9,500 Palestinian refugees.

“These closures create serious challenges for UNRWA’s humanitarian access, including the delivery of medical supplies, the removal of refuse from the camps, and the daily movement of agency staff working inside the camp,” UNRWA said.

The statement highlighted the impact that the closure has had on the population both socially, economically, as well as the increased health risk for camp residents.

According to UNRWA, the main entrance to the camp, which is located on a main road between Hebron City and the southern town of al-Dhahiriya, has been closed to vehicles, which has impacted camp residents’ ability to report to their work outside the camp, and has incurred additional expenses for the refugees, "impacting their already bleak financial situation."

The statement also noted that Scott Anderson, UNRWA’s West Bank field director, was granted limited access to the besieged area in July, only after coordination with the Israeli authorities.

Following the visit he released a statement condemning the closures, also noting that a couple from al-Fawwar were the first to respond to the surviving members of the Israeli family in the drive-by shooting incident, providing them with first aid before the arrival of the ambulances.

“I call upon the Israeli authorities to refrain from collectively punishing innocent people for the acts of others,” said Anderson.

UNRWA cited the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention -- to which Israel is a party and which applies to occupied territory -- saying that “no person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed.”

“UNRWA calls upon the Israeli authorities to put an end to the closures in the West Bank and to ensure unimpeded access for UNRWA staff and humanitarian assistance across the West Bank, thereby also safeguarding UNRWA’s humanitarian space,” the statement concluded.

Israeli forces have continued to impose general closures throughout Hebron, the largest and most populous district in the occupied West Bank, as the widespread manhunt for gunmen responsible for the shootings continued.

The recent road and village closures are not uncommon to Hebron since a wave of unrest swept across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel in October that has killed more than 220 Palestinians and some 32 Israelis.

The Hebron area in particular has grown as the epicenter of upheaval, with Israeli authorities severely restricting the movement of Palestinians by declaring the area of Tel Rumeida and other parts of the Old City as a "closed military zone" for several months in November amid dozens of incidents in which more than 40 Palestinians were killed.

Israel’s response to attacks -- such as punitive home demolitions, the sealing of entire villages, mass detention campaigns, and withholding the bodies of Palestinians slain while committing attacks -- has been condemned by rights groups, who have used similar rhetoric to that of UNRWA, saying the measures amount to “collective punishment” and represent a clear violation of international law.

Palestinian government spokesperson Yousif al-Mahmoud reiterated earlier this month that Israel, by continuing its "abhorrent" policies under various pretexts, such as alleged security concerns, could not hide the fact that the Israeli occupation was the main reason for the continuing tensions and instability in the region.

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