"Seize the opportunities of the Gaza ceasefire": UNRWA Commissioner-General
26 November 2012
Dead Sea, Jordan
UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi called on the international community and the parties to the Israel-Palestine conflict to "seize the opportunity" provided by the Gaza ceasefire. He called last week’s conflict a "tragic escalation" and urged all to "address the real problems underlying the crisis." Speaking to UNRWA’s Advisory Commission, Grandi called for "the illegal Israeli blockade to be lifted in all its aspects – crossings, fishing zones, imports, exports – with proper guarantees given to and by all parties in respect of the security of all civilians."
Grandi recognised that to address root causes, "difficult political work would have to be carried out, including promoting and supporting lasting Palestinian unity. But failing to act now will have dire consequences. The greatest danger is to return to the status quo ante, and restore the prison-like conditions of Gaza. If this happened, it would be only a matter of time till violence resumed."
He added that the crisis in Gaza was "about the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a broader sense, with all its elements, including the situation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem."
Grandi also briefed Advisory Commission members on the crisis in Syria, where he said "concerns about the welfare of the half-million Palestine refugees there have grown as they are increasingly affected by the conflict. The vast majority of Palestinians in Syria maintain the shield of neutrality, aware that their protection depends on it. However", Grandi warned "we do observe explicit efforts to draw them into the conflict. It is therefore not difficult to imagine that they become, increasingly, targets of attacks – in the midst of a situation in which the killing and kidnapping of civilians, the destruction of their homes, and widespread fear have become so common that they don’t make the headlines any longer."
"UNRWA’s strategy in Syria, as in Gaza", he said, "is to be there, to maintain services, and to address the growing emergency needs as much as possible." UNRWA, he said, "possesses proven operational abilities, through its existing staff capacity and infrastructure, and will continue to build Palestinian resilience by continuing education, health and relief services, meeting emergency needs for food and supplies – particularly during winter – and assisting with shelter repair."
On the question of his own tenure as Commissioner-General, Grandi has informed staff that the Secretary General has decided to extend his term for one more year, until 20 January 2014. This will ensure the stability of UNRWA’s leadership during a time of difficult political challenges, unrest and volatility in the region. 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, microfinance and emergency assistance.
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, supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the budget deficit stands at USD 21 million.
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