Thant Says Israel Occupation Prevent Easing of Arab Refugee Problem

Secretary-General U Thant, in an unprecedented appearance before the special political committee of the General Assembly today, said that the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank of the Jordan River ” and the lack of any present indication as to when that occupation will be terminated” prevented an easing of the refugee problem by the return of persons displaced by the June, 1967 Arab-Israel war to their homes.

Mr. Thant came before the political committee to appeal for renewal of the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Arab refugees (UNRWA) which expires next June. He underscored the urgency of financial support to meet the agency’s 1969 budgetary requirements amounting to $42.5 million and to make up an expected deficit of $5 million. He said it would be “unthinkable” if the mandate was not renewed and added that “the international community which the United Nations represents cannot abandon this very large group of people for whose plight the UN must bear a considerable measure of responsibility.”

Mr. Thant estimated the number of Palestinian refugees at over one million people, “who considerably outnumber the whole population of a number of member states of the UN.” He referred at length to Arabs displaced from their West Bank homes and from refugee camps there by the June, 1967 war and said that for them “the only remedy that would appear to be at once acceptable and practical is their early return to their former places of residence.”

“I think it is necessary to state that If the camps on the West Bank could again serve their original purpose, and if the displaced persons could return to their former homes, a long step would have been taken towards reducing the hardships faced by a large number of refugees and displaced persons in Jordan,” Mr, Thant said. “I realize, however, that a major factor and a possible obstacle to such a development from the standpoint of the displaced persons and refugees themselves, and conceivably of the Government of Israel as well, is the continuing occupation by Israel forces of the area concerned and the lack of any indication as to when that occupation will be terminated and peaceful conditions prevail.”

In that connection, Mr. Thant cited the June 14, 1967 resolution of the Security Council which, among other things, said that the return to their homes of persons who fled in the wake of the Arab-Israel war should be facilitated. A similar appeal was made by the General Assembly in its resolution of July 4, 1967, he said. “Although efforts have been made to secure such a return for both refugees and displaced persons, the results in terms of the numbers who have actually returned have been relatively small,” Mr. Thant said.

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