Senior UN officials and donor partners on Sunday visited a refugee camp in Palestine, at the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, where they witnessed the “shocking” damage sustained during the Israeli incursion last week.
The two-day military operation was the fiercest in over 20 years, according to the UN agency that assists Palestine refugees, UNRWA.
At least 12 people were killed, including four children, and another 140 were injured. Around 900 houses were damaged, with many now uninhabitable.
“We went to Jenin camp with our partners to show solidarity with residents and reassure them that they are not alone,” said Leni Stenseth, the UNRWA Deputy Commissioner-General.
The delegation also included Adam Bouloukos, Director of the agency’s West Bank Field Office, and Lynn Hastings, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator. They were accompanied by several senior representatives from the international and donor community.
“The destruction I saw was shocking. Some houses were completely burned down, cars had been crushed against walls, roads were damaged; the UNRWA health centre was destroyed,” Ms. Stenseth said.
“But, more than the physical damage, I saw the trauma in the eyes of camp residents who had witnessed the violence. I heard them speak about their exhaustion and fear,” she noted.
Around 24,000 people live in the Jenin Refugee Camp, which is located in the northern West Bank. The UNRWA health centre there was so badly damaged that it can no longer be used, and four of its schools sustained minor damage, the agency reported.
While some students were back in the classroom on Sunday, attendance was very low, with some parents reporting that their children were too scared to leave their homes.
Mr. Bouloukos said the delegation visited a classroom where students shared that just 10 days ago, they had buried a classmate who was killed in an earlier incursion. He said it is very hard for children to walk to school as the main roads are still unusable.
“When trying to find alternative ways to school, some younger children lost their way. We truly feared for their safety due to the risks of unexploded ordinance. A priority now is to provide mental and psychosocial support to help children cope with their fear and anxiety,” he added.
UNRWA said the Jenin Refugee Camp has witnessed severe violence over the last two years, with 2023 being particularly intense.
“The camp is now partially without access to electricity and water,” Mr. Bouloukos said, and added that: “Nearly eight kilometres of water piping and three kilometres of sewage lines were destroyed due to the use of heavy machinery that ripped up large sections of the roads.”
Large-scale cleaning operations are underway, and UNRWA commended local and municipal authorities for their efforts in this regard.
At least 3,500 people were forced to flee their homes due to the military operation.