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UN aid reaches Jenin, where relief workers report widespread devastation

UN aid reaches Jenin, where relief workers report widespread devastation

Following repeated unsuccessful attempts to deliver relief aid to the Jenin refugee camp on the West Bank, United Nations trucks today distributed food to families in the area, which aid workers described as the scene of monumental destruction.

Two trucks from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as well as two vehicles from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reached the Jenin camp. UNRWA distributed 20 tons of food, or enough to feed 5,000 people for the next few days, while the ICRC provided immediate medical assistance in the camp.

Much of the assistance was distributed to large crowds - mainly composed of women - who were "desperate to feed their families after 14 consecutive days trapped in the fighting and its aftermath," the Agency reported in a dispatch from Gaza.

UNRWA said the wholesale obliteration of homes, streets and commercial buildings would leave thousands homeless in Jenin, while one UN aid worker said the camp looked like the aftermath of an earthquake.

Agency officials were told by residents that human noises could be heard from people still trapped under the rubble. Although Israeli authorities had allowed the two trucks of humanitarian supplies to enter, earthmoving equipment and the necessary aid workers to move the debris were not permitted into the camp. UNRWA also cited reports that seven people had been pulled alive from the ruins in the last 24 hours.

UNRWA's own facilities in Jenin sustained widespread damage, including the Agency's school and its clinic, and its Camp Services Office and Sanitation Stores were levelled to the ground.

Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, issued a statement today calling the situation inside the camp "appalling." He added that conditions there require "a response on a far wider scale than so far has been possible" and underscored the "humanitarian imperative to take every possible action to save life."

The envoy stressed the need to lift the curfew and allow freedom of movement for both the civilian population and humanitarian workers. He also urged expanded Israeli assistance to relief workers and called for the facilitation of large-scale water and food supplies for the population in need. In addition, Mr. Roed-Larsen called on Israel to fully cooperate with UNRWA and the ICRC "consistent with its obligations under international humanitarian law."