3 men in Gaza fire at car of United Nations envoy

March 17, 2007|By New York Times News Service

JERUSALEM -- In what was apparently a kidnapping attempt, three gunmen fired 14 bullets into the armored car of the Gaza director of the U.N. refugee agency yesterday.

The official, John Ging, was returning to Gaza from Israel through the Erez checkpoint in an armored car marked with the U.N. insignia and flag, surrounded by two other U.N. cars.

He said that he, a driver and a security official were blocked near Beit Hanoun by a white Subaru and that three masked gunmen jumped out of the car and fired in the air. "They tried to force open the car, and when the driver began to pull out, they opened fire," Ging said in an interview. The gunmen shot at the car.

"This is unprecedented, to shoot at a clearly marked U.N. vehicle with a U.N. flag flying in broad daylight," Ging said.

Ging is Gaza director of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, the largest nongovernmental employer in Gaza. The agency cares for about 70 percent of Gaza's 1.5 million people, who are registered as refugees or their descendants uprooted by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

In some periods of chaos, the United Nations has pulled Western employees out of Gaza for weeks at a time.

A spokesman for the agency in Gaza said that discussions were going on with the U.N. headquarters in New York about how to respond.

Ging said that Palestinian officials reacted quickly, and that Gazans relied on his agency. "The need for our humanitarian operation is phenomenal at this time, and we are very committed to the task," he said.

"But we need a safe and secure environment in which to conduct our operations. This gives us cause to carefully consider our position here."

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