UN: Not enough aid cash to help Palestinians

United Nations relief workers reported yesterday that they could meet only 40 per cent of the minimum food needs of nearly a million Palestinian refugees made destitute by three years of violent confrontation with Israel. They said international donors had provided less than half of the emergency aid they had sought for this year.

Mobile clinics, on which one in three of the refugees depend for basic health care, may have to be taken off the road, they said. The number of births at home rather than in hospital has already risen sharply and there has been a 35 per cent drop in infants completing immunisation programmes.

The backlog on rebuilding refugee homes demolished by the Israeli army has grown to 1,100, with an average waiting time of two years. "These families will continue to be without a roof over their heads if we can't get the funding," warned Peter Hansen, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). He estimated that between a third and a half of the Palestinian labour force was unemployed.

Mr Hansen was launching a $193m (£110m) emergency appeal for next year. The sum is $3m less than had beenrequested for this year, but $108m more than wasreceived. "I urge donors to assist UNRWA in caring for the thousands who have lost their jobs or their homes," he said.

"UNRWA needs this funding if it is to repair some of the damage done to the minds and emotions of the children it cares for, or to simply provide food for the hungry."

Britain and the United States, the prime movers behind the invasion of Iraq, have been more generous than most, with donations of $8.3m and $46m respectively. They may have wanted to show anti-war campaigners that they were not neglecting another Middle East conflict.

Ireland has already committed itself to provide $1.2m next year. UNRWA, which has sustained Palestinian refugees for more than half a century, is trying to draw Russia and China into the circle of donors for the first time.

Mr Hansen reported, however, that a number of European states had cut back, either because they were channelling the money to reconstruct Iraq or because they complained they were "tired of financing the Israeli occupation".

¿ A Palestinian gunman wounded seven Hassidic Jews early yesterday as they drove away from Joseph's Tomb in the Palestinian city of Nablus. The Israeli police arrested nine other worshippers who were in the same vehicle for defying military orders not to visit the shrine, the traditional burial site of the biblical Joseph.

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