Update: Israel's Military Assault: Bethlehem Area Refugee Camps under Attack

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As international public opinion remains focused on US military attacks in Afghanistan and the increasing humanitarian crisis faced by the Afghan people, included millions of Afghan refugees, Israel's military assault on the Palestinian population in the 1967 occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip continues for the sixth day in the districts of Bethlehem, Ramallah, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, and Nablus. The number of Palestinians killed since Israeli forces invaded Palestinian cities on 18 October has risen to 30 (Palestine Red Crescent). Physical damage caused by heavy gunfire, shelling from tanks and missiles fired from helicopter gunships is extensive. Within the last 24 hours, the Nativity Church and the French Hospital in Bethlehem, in addition to homes and businesses already attacked have been hit by Israeli fire. Israeli officials have publicly rejected the call from the US government yesterday for Israel to immediately withdraw from these areas and to stay out in the future, a demand characterized
as "baseless."

Attacks on the Palestinian refugee camps in Bethlehem have been severe. For six days 'Aida and 'Azza/Beit Jibrin camps, which provide shelter to more than 5,000 refugees, have been under total siege. Four Palestinians from the
camps have been killed by Israeli sniper fire, including a young mother of nine children, one of whom is 6 months old. More than 35 residents of the two camps have been injured. Detailed estimates of damage to refugee shelters from Israeli shelling and gunfire are unavailable as residents have been unable to move outside their homes. Most of the water tanks in both camps, however, have been destroyed leaving residents without water for the past six days. Residents of 'Aida camp and most of 'Azza camp have also been without electricity since Israeli military forces invade the city on 18 October. Two shelters have been completely destroyed by fire.

Due to the complete absence of physical security in the camp, residents have run out of food and milk. In contravention of international law, moreover, UN officials have been denied humanitarian access to the camp by the Israeli military, preventing residents from receiving first aid and reaching medical clinics. An UNRWA ambulance driver and doctor, who attempted to provide emergency assistance to injured residents of 'Azza camp on 20 October were wounded by Israeli sniper fire. Meanwhile, five families, consisting of 29 children and adults continue to be held hostage by Israeli soldiers who have occupied their building adjacent to the UNRWA girls school in 'Aida camp and turned it into a military outpost.

Late this morning residents of the two camps and residents of Bethlehem and Beit Jala were offered a short reprieve from the siege and attacks when a large international delegation comprised of church leaders and diplomats participated in a march from Jerusalem via the Bethlehem checkpoint to Manger Square, Beit Jala, and then to 'Aida refugee camp. In "honor" of the distinguished visitors the Israeli military took quick measures to sanitize the war zone, removing all tanks from the checkpoint and streets of Bethlehem/Beit Jala and allowing
UNRWA, for the first time in six days to enter 'Aida and 'Azza refugee camps. The Israeli army resumed shooting immediately after the distinguished demonstrators had left the scene.

Israel's assault on the Palestinian population over the last 6 days raises in even more stark terms the urgent need for international protection for the Palestinian people and Palestinian refugees as a particularly vulnerable sector of Palestinian society. Renewed attempts again are being made to lobby for a Security Council decision mandating the deployment of international protection forces in the occupied territories. Previous attempts to secure a Security Council mandate for protection forces have been blocked by the United States. Since the outset of the widespread military incursions and occupation of Palestinian cities and refugee camps, the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, recent recipient of the Nobel peace prize, has been silent. As Secretary-General, Mr. Annan, should be taking a public and lead role in actively promoting the importance and urgency of international protection for Palestinians, rather than simply waiting for an initiative from the various international actors. As noted by a recent
review of UN peace operations, "continued equal treatment of all parties by the UN can in the best case result in ineffectiveness and in the worst may amount to complicity with evil. No failure did more to damage the standing and
credibility of United Nations peacekeeping in the 1990s than its reluctance to distinguish victim from aggressor." (Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations) Individual lives and the survival of a viable political
option for peace in the region are at stake.

PLEASE SEND URGENT CALLS FOR INTERVENTION to the United Nations, your government and press.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Fax: 212-963-7162
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Urgent calls should also be directed, in particular, to the US government, given the fact that the US has blocked previous efforts to secure a Security Council mandate for protection forces.

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone: (202) 456-1414
Fax: (202) 456-2461

Secretary of State Colin Powell
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone: (202) 647-4000 (202-647-5150) Bureau of Near East Affairs
Fax: (202) 261-8577