Israelis Ired by Thant View That Occupation is Obstacle to Helping Refugees

Israelis are angered by United Nations Secretary-General U Thant’s statement that Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank is a serious obstacle to improving the condition of Palestinian Arab refugees. Mr. Thant spoke yesterday before the General Assembly’s special political committee which is debating the refugee problem. No official statement of reply from Israel is expected now but a rebuttal will be made when Israel’s turn to speak comes up in the political committee, sources here said.

The Secretary-General went before the committee in what he himself termed an “unprecedented” appearance to appeal for renewal of the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Arab refugees (UNRWA) which expires next June 30. Citing the condition of the refugees, whose numbers he estimated at one million, Mr. Thant said that “a long step would have been taken toward reducing the hardships” if they could return to their former homes. “I realize, however,” he added, “that a major actor and a possible obstacle to such a development…Is the continuing occupation by Israeli forces of the area concerned and the lack of any indication as to when that occupation will be terminated and peaceful conditions prevail.”

Israelis were especially chagrined because Mr. Thant directed his remarks against Israel while “neither the UN nor the Arab states did anything to solve the refugee problem during 19 years of Jordanian rule over the West Bank and Egyptian occupation of the Gaza Strip,” as one source put it.

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