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LONDON: UN staff working with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have been subjected to a systematic campaign of obstruction and harassment by the Israeli military and authorities since Oct. 7, according to internal UN documents obtained by The Guardian.

Compiled by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the documents detail the challenges faced by the agency, which operates 96 schools and 43 health clinics serving 871,000 registered refugees in the region.

The documents recorded 135 incidents impacting its clinics, schools and offices, including incursions, misuse of facilities, and military activities leading to the deployment of tear gas and bullets into UN properties.

The papers said: “UNRWA staff have been verbally abused, subject to identity checks and searches, and required to lift their clothing to demonstrate the absence of weapons.”

More concerning are the reported violations of the UN’s privileges and immunities, including armed entry into UNRWA facilities by Israeli Security Forces and damage to UNRWA property during these operations, The Guardian reported.

One report states that two UNRWA staff, traveling in a vehicle marked with the UN emblem, were stopped by soldiers at a temporary checkpoint in February as they tried to leave a Palestinian village near Bethlehem.

The soldiers, who “forcefully” removed the keys and “forced the staff to get out … at gunpoint,” then searched the vehicle and mocked the staff, “making reference to the staff belonging to Hamas.”

The staff were subsequently blindfolded, handcuffed, and beaten until a senior officer intervened.

The documents describe how UNRWA’s West Bank health centers ran out of critical supplies after Israeli customs held up a delivery of medicine in Jordan. The 42-pallet cargo, which included antibiotics, antihistamines, painkillers, and treatment for diabetes, hypertension, and schizophrenia, arrived in Amman in January but was not cleared until Sunday, two hours after The Guardian contacted Israeli authorities. A spokesperson for Israeli customs denied that there had been any delay.

The documents also reveal Israeli troops’ use of UNRWA facilities during military operations in the West Bank, including at least one incident in which several Palestinians were killed.

Additionally, papers detail a military raid on Dec. 8 in which Israeli forces broke into an UNRWA health center in the Al-Faraa refugee camp and removed the UN flag.

The documents said: “After ISF withdrew from the camp and when UNRWA staff were able to safely return to the health center, (spent) ammunition was found on the premises.”

The Israeli raid killed six Palestinians, including a 14-year-old.

Al-Arroub refugee camp, south of Bethlehem, has been subjected to severe restrictions by Israeli authorities since Oct. 7, with new metal gates constructed to control access to a nearby highway, and earth or rocks dumped to block back roads. According to documents, security forces alerted the local community that the new gates would be closed for three days after stones were thrown at a watchtower.

Despite attempts to coordinate with the Israeli authorities, UNRWA staff in and around the camp have had their travel restricted, their vehicles searched, and have been insulted or accused of supporting terrorism.

The documents added: “Sometimes access has been completely denied, regardless of coordination. Access procedures can sporadically change without prior notice, depending on the troops manning the checkpoint, and there is no predictability. These factors have made operational planning very difficult for UNRWA on Al-Arroub camp.”

Juliette Touma, a spokesperson for UNRWA, said that the incidents brought to light were “part of a wider pattern of harassment that we are seeing against UNRWA in the West Bank and Jerusalem.”

The documents cite the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN, adopted in 1946, under which UN agencies “are entitled to carry out activities in support of their mandate without hindrance.”

One UNRWA document said that closures and restrictions of movement in the West Bank have created “deepening economic hardship, particularly for Palestinians who work in a different city or who rely on travel to Israel for work.”

It added: “The longer access and movement restrictions are in place, the greater the potential for further instability in the West Bank.”

A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces told The Guardian that the military had “no issues with UNRWA in the West Bank.”

They added: “We are not trying to harass them. There is nothing we intentionally do to disturb their important work. We are unable to verify these claims and we have not been presented with evidence (for them). We have a good relationship with UNRWA and other organizations in the West Bank.”

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