GAZA, Israeli-Occupied Gaza Strip — U.N. officials said Saturday that the food shortage in some of the Palestinian refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, which have had a curfew imposed on them by Israeli officials, has become a matter of alarm.
"The situation in some camps is critical," said Angela J. Williams, acting director of field operations of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. "I do think the people are very hungry. They are asking us for assistance."
All eight camps in the Gaza Strip, with about 240,000 refugees out of a total population of 650,000, are now under a full curfew. The longest has been in effect in the settlement at Khan Yunis, which has been sealed off for 11 days with no food supplies allowed to enter.
The curfew means that inhabitants are confined to their homes and that no one can enter or leave the camps without permission from the Israeli authorities.
The last of the eight camps in the Gaza Strip was placed under curfew Friday.
"There is hunger but no starvation yet," one U.N. official said. "But the situation is alarming."
Meanwhile, in a West Bank refugee camp near Nablus, rubber bullets were fired by Israeli soldiers at Palestinians near where Marrack Goulding, U.N. undersecretary general, was visiting refugees on behalf of the world organization. Goulding had to be hurried out of the way, according to an aide, and no serious injuries were reported.
In Gaza, Williams announced that U.N. trucks with foodstuffs will be stationed outside all eight camps to try to take advantage of short breaks in the curfew which sometimes occur during the day.
"We are going to have the vehicles with food stand outside each camp until they let us in," she said.
The use of blanket curfews has been condemned by the United Nations in the past as a form of "collective punishment," meted out to whole camps and villages for infraction of regulations by any of the inhabitants.
U.N. officials here said that occasionally the Israeli military authorities lift the curfews in the camps, but they complain that the authorities do not notify the relief organization in advance, making it difficult for the agency to supply the food, health and sanitation services it wants to offer.
Moreover, U.N. relief workers say they are now required to request permits in person to enter the camps a day before they wish to make such visits during the hours when curfews may be lifted.
Even if inhabitants of the camps were allowed to leave while a curfew is lifted, one U.N. official said, they are not given enough time to get food, especially since most grocery stores have been shut down by a general strike of Gaza's Palestinian residents.
Schools are also closed in the Gaza Strip, including 146 with 9,000 students that are operated by the U.N. relief agency.
U.N. officials assert that they are getting what one described as the "runaround" from Israeli military officials. They said that senior officers tell them they may provide emergency services to the camps but that when they try to do so, the commanders guarding the camps refuse to let their vehicles in.
Also, U.N. officials say that their contacts with the Israeli military and military governors in the various Gaza communities are limited and infrequent.
"We have great difficulty reaching the liaison officer to discuss matters," one U.N. official said, adding that the military officer responsible for the central Gaza Strip has refused to even discuss matters with the welfare agency.
Williams said that the agency had been given assurances by the military that they would work together, but, she said, "in actual practice, we have each day run into obstructions in attempting to deliver the emergency assistance."
A senior U.N. relief official added: "We don't find a consistent Israel policy for the occupied territories, particularly where the curfew is concerned. If they said that the curfews were essential (because) cutting off aid makes it difficult for the residents, thereby breaking down resistance, that way of thinking would at least be understandable. But they have not even cited such security rules to us."
Israeli officials and the U.N. welfare organization have always had an uneasy relationship. The Israelis take the position that U.N. practices of looking after refugees in their camps have allowed them to become breeding places for Palestinian nationalism.
Williams indicated that she tries to be philosophical about the difficulties. "We sit quietly, patiently, and persistently, inching our way forward," she said.
Another U.N. official, who was born on the West Bank, said that in the long term, the policy of curfews and curbs on access to food supplies "is just creating more anger and hate here against the Israelis."