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UN Agencies Distribute Aid to Palestinians - 2002-04-19

United Nations agencies are distributing food and medical aid to the devastated Jenin refugee camp and are trying to reach other areas in the Palestinian territories. The U.N. agency aiding Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said it is providing food, medicine and water to those left homeless in the Jenin camp, which was ravaged by fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen.

UNRWA spokesman Rene Aquarone said the agency has set up tents outside the Jenin camp to temporarily house residents because many shelters have either been destroyed or are unstable. He said UNRWA is distributing supplies raised by Palestinian communities living in Jerusalem and Israel.

"We are now using all these supplies, food, also tents and blankets to access the refugees. We have managed to do a considerable distribution. The center of the camp has been obliterated. In some parts, the rubble is three-stories high," Mr. Aquarone said. Mr. Aquarone said UNRWA is responsible for coordinating relief efforts for the Jenin camp. He said offers for sending specialized personnel to search for victims buried by the rubble have been pouring in from Norway, Switzerland, France, Turkey and the United States. The Swiss-based International Committee for the Red Cross has set up tracing services for missing people.

Requests to Israel to provide heavy equipment to remove the concrete wreckage have so far gone unanswered. Israeli authorities also prevented the West Bank coordinator for the World Health Organization from entering the Jenin camp on Thursday and was only allowed to enter the hospital on the outskirts of the town.

Mr. Aquarone said UNRWA is concerned about being able to reach Palestinians with aid in Bethlehem, Nablus, and Ramallah because curfews are keeping people shut up in their homes. The World Food Program said it has managed Friday to distribute 40 tons of food to Palestinians in hospitals and other institutions in these West Bank towns. It also has delivered 10 tons of food aid to Jenin.

Fadela Chaib of the WHO said her organization has not been able to reach Palestinians in these areas with medical supplies and this is worrying. "People who need uninterrupted treatment, for example for heart diseases, diabetes, etc. They do not have easy access to health facilities so there is a risk for them to die if they don't get this treatment in time," Mr. Chaib said.

WHO has sent 50 emergency health kits expected to arrive on Tuesday, that include surgical and medical aids to care for more than 300,000 people. It also expressed fears that epidemic outbreaks of diarrheal diseases, meningitis and measles could take place in the West Bank because of the lack of clean water, sanitation and vaccines. Electricity cuts, it said, may have destroyed the stocks of vaccines that do it exist.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it has visited 1,300 Palestinians detained by Israel during the fighting in Jenin. It said it welcomes an international inquiry into what took place in refugee camp, but lacks the expertise to lead such a probe.