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Source: United Nations (Video News)

In his briefing to the Security Council on Wednesday (18 Nov), Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process called on Israel to “cease demolitions, seizures of Palestinian property and efforts to relocate communities” following reports that Israeli authorities “carried out the most extensive demolition in the occupied West Bank in the past decade” earlier this month.

In a virtual meeting of the Security Council, Mladenov briefed on efforts to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 in Palestine.

He said “Gaza remains the most immediate and pressing concern. Its crumbling infrastructure, poor living conditions and fragile healthcare system make it ill-equipped to face a major spike in cases. Already affected by severe movement and access restrictions, by cycles of violent escalation and years of humanitarian and socio-economic calamity, the two million Palestinians living within Gaza’s confines would face catastrophic consequences from a major outbreak.”

Mladenov also briefed on the economic consequences of the pandemic Some 121,000 Palestinians lost their jobs in the wake of the first lockdown and employment figures declined by 17 percent in Gaza, according to Mladenov.

“Some 40 percent of Palestinian households lost more than half their income in this period and food insecurity rates have soared,” he said. “The most recent reports suggest any recovery will be slow and partial. Women and children continue to bear the brunt of the combined effect of the pandemic and the socio-economic crisis across the OPT, facing an increased risk of violence within their homes and limited access to support services.”

The Special Coordinator reported on the efforts of the United Nations and its partners to help address the emergency.

“Since the start of the pandemic, close to 85,000 tests and advanced laboratory equipment components have been delivered, as well as over 5.5 million items for infection protection and control,” Mladenov said. “UN agencies and partners have also delivered dozens of ventilators, monitors, beds and other crucial hospital equipment. In addition, the UN has supported several quarantine facilities in Gaza with non-food items, bolstered public communication efforts and trained healthcare professionals.”

The shortfall inn the funding of the UNRWA – UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, that supports the relief and human development of Palestinian refugees “stands at USD 115 million for November and December,” Mladenov said. “For the first time, UNRWA forecasts that it cannot pay salaries and expenses in full, impacting 28,000 staff.”

UNRWA is the main provider of direct assistance to many of the 5.7 million Palestinian refugees. It urgently needs USD 70 million to provide food for 1.5 million refugees in Gaza and Syria, supply medical care in 58 refugee camps vital to the fight against COVID-19, and education for over half a million students.

“I take the opportunity to, once again, urge the international community to act swiftly and provide the necessary resources for UNRWA to continue delivering its vital services, helping prevent serious risks to stability that the region simply cannot afford,” Mladenov said.

In other “concerning developments” in the region Mladenov said, “on 3 November Israeli authorities carried out the most extensive demolition in the occupied West Bank in the past decade, destroying over 70 structures, including homes, in the Bedouin village of Humsa Al Bqai’a, in Area C. Seventy-three people were displaced, including 41 children. Their vulnerability is compounded by the onset of winter and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic”.

The Special Coordinator also reported that Israel has also resumed home demolitions in East Jerusalem after a pause of several weeks.

In total, 153 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C and East Jerusalem were demolished or seized, displacing 96 Palestinians, including 22 women and 51 children, and affecting some 1,400 others. The demolitions and seizures were reportedly executed due to the lack of Israeli-issued building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain. In addition, three structures were
demolished by their owners to avoid the payment of additional fines.

“I reiterate my call on Israeli authorities to cease demolitions, seizures of Palestinian property and efforts to relocate communities in the occupied West Bank. Such actions are contrary to international law and could undermine the chances for the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state,” Mladenov said.

He closed his briefing by calling on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to explore every opening that can restore hope in a two-State solution.