Palestinian refugees seek shelter

As the sun baked the densely populated camp, young children carrying empty plastic bottles and cooking pots chased a United Nations truck transporting drinking water to schools which had been transformed into makeshift refugee centres.

    Schools are currently housing thousands of refugees

    But this is not Lebanon. It is the northern Gaza Strip, which the UN last week said was facing a humanitarian crisis similar to south Lebanon's.
    Four schools in the Jabalia refugee camp currently house thousands of displaced Palestinians who fled their homes in the Al-Sheikh Zayed district of southern Gaza after they received telephone calls from the Israeli military saying that they would target the area in search of fighters firing crude Qassam rockets.
    Mona Shaqoura, a resident of the Al-Sheikh Zayed district, said she decided to flee when shrapnel from Israeli fire destroyed all her windows.
    She said: "We were all asleep and then a bomb or rocket … I don't know what it was … shook our apartment. My son was injured in his right leg from the shrapnel caused by the impact."
    Seeking UN help
    Fathi al-Sa'di said: "Suddenly, a shell hit our apartment, but thanks to Allah, it was a [dud] which caused significant damage to the doors and windows."
    Grabbing what they could, he and his family left the apartment in their night clothes and took to the street in search of safety. 
    They eventually reached the Jabalia refugee camp north of the Sheikh al-Zayed district.
    With the fledgling Hamas-led government unable to provide shelter, al-Sa'di turned to the UN relief and works agency (UNRWA).
    Karen Abu Zayed, the commissioner-general of the UNRWA in the Palestinian territories, said that her staff provided food and shelter in the schools for al-Sa'di and thousands of others.
    She said: "The UNRWA's role is a humanitarian one - to provide some sort of protection and shelters for people and to meet their immediate needs like food and clothing.

    "We also provided some counselling and are trying to help the children adapt to an environment other than their own."

    She said that 1345 refugees had arrived at the school.
    As'ad abu-Akel who is experiencing displacement for the second time - he was displaced in 2002 from a housing project near to the former Israeli settlement of Netzarim - described life in the schools as "unbearable".
    He said: "Not enough food, not enough water, not enough clothes, not enough mattresses and blankets, not enough room."

    Appeal for aid

    Abu-Zayed, of the UNRWA, said that if more refugees arrive and are not returned to their homes soon, the UN agency will launch a fundraising campaign to construct homes in relatively safer areas of the Gaza Strip.

    In the meantime, 30 other families from the Al-Shoka district near Rafah left their homes after an Israeli incursion left 12 people dead.

    The international committee for the red cross (ICRC) has also provided emergency assistance.

    Nada al-Doumani, ICRC spokesperson for the Middle East, said: "The ICRC provided hygienic kits to 147 families, who were sheltered in UNRWA schools.

    "Their basic needs were covered by UNRWA, since they have refugee status, and the ICRC complemented these supplies."

    Dr Ghazi Hamad, the ministry of information spokesperson, said: "This [displacement] is aimed at pushing Palestinians to leave their lands. We still need the international community to stand with us in order to be able to face such manmade disasters committed by the occupation."

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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