Representative to the European Union John Gatt-Rutter visited the Gaza Strip today to commend the outstanding work done by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) during the recent eight-day conflict. In a meeting at UNRWA's Rimal Health Centre in Gaza City, Mr. Gatt-Rutter and Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza Robert Turner signed a new EUR 11.5 million agreement to support the Agency's core activities in the areas of health, education and social services.
This latest contribution comes on top of an EUR 80 million contribution provided earlier in the year; a clear illustration of the EU's commitment to Palestine refugees. It will allow UNRWA to sustain the delivery of regular services at a period when refugee needs have grown substantially without corresponding growth in the Agency's budget. The majority of the 1.7 million people in Gaza are refugees.
"Rimal Health Centre was one of 19 of UNRWA's 21 health centre's in the Strip that remained operational during the conflict, with 96 per cent of the Agency's health staff in Gaza in attendance to care for those in need," recalled Mr. Turner. "It is a testament to the strength and endurance of the Gazan people that staff not only managed to keep health facilities operational, but successfully dealt with a 122 per cent increase in patient visits after the announcement of the ceasefire.
"Only days into a fragile ceasefire, the demands on Agency services will only increase," he continued. "Indeed, demands for health services are spiking, but similar needs for educational and relief and social service programming are growing as well. Already the Agency's largest multilateral donor, with this latest donation, the EU has yet again stepped in to assist UNRWA in meeting the needs of Palestine refugees at this most critical time."
The visit was an opportunity for the EU to express its deep concern about the situation of the civilian population in Gaza, emphasising the importance of consolidating the current ceasefire.
"I want first and foremost to express my condolences and sympathy to all civilians who have suffered losses within their family and friends," said Mr. Gatt-Rutter at the ceremony. "We are here today at one of UNRWA's health centres which remained open during the conflict. I pay tribute to the courage and commitment of all UNRWA staff during this difficult time.
"Under dangerous circumstances, UNRWA continued with the distribution of food assistance, cared for thousands of patients at its health clinics and managed to secure continuity of school classes via its innovative educational satellite TV channel. I am today in Gaza to see first-hand the implications of yet another devastating escalation of violence.
The civilian population, yet again, took a heavy toll and endured both physical and psychological trauma. The current situation underlines once more the urgent need to move towards a comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution and on Palestinian reconciliation," he added.
This was the first visit to Gaza by an EU delegation after the ceasefire was attained and an opportunity to survey the damages from the latest round of hostilities. The EU Representative also met with Palestinian businessmen who have benefited from the joint Palestinian Authority-EU private sector reconstruction programme in Gaza as well as members of the civil society and journalists who were affected by the conflict.
Fully recognising Israel's legitimate security needs, the EU continues to call for the immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from the Gaza Strip, the current situation of which is unsustainable as long as it remains politically separated from the West Bank.
MEMO Photographer: Mohammed Asad