UNRWA chief warns man-made famine tightening grip across Gaza

Friday, Apr 19, 2024

UNITED NATIONS: A man-made famine is “tightening its grip” across the Gaza Strip, the head of the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA warned on Thursday as he accused Israel of blocking aid deliveries and seeking to end UNRWA’s activities in the enclave.

“Today, an insidious campaign to end UNRWA’s operations is underway, with serious implications for international peace and security,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini told the 15-member UN Security Council.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) provides education, health and aid to millions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Since war erupted six months ago between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, top UN officials have described UNRWA as the backbone of aid operations.

“Across Gaza, a man-made famine is tightening its grip,” Lazzarini said. “In the north, infants and young children have begun to die of malnutrition and dehydration. Across the border, food and clean water wait. But UNRWA is denied permission to deliver this aid and save lives.”

Israel has long complained about UNRWA and in January accused a dozen of its 13,000 staff in Gaza of being involved in an Oct 7 Hamas attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people. Israel is retaliating against in Hamas-ruled Gaza and has killed more than 33,000 people, according to Gaza health authorities. Lazzarini fired the accused staff and an internal UN inquiry is underway into allegations. A separate UNRWA report dated February said some staff detained by Israel reported being pressured by Israeli authorities into falsely stating that UNRWA has Hamas links and that staff took part in the Oct 7 attacks.

An independent review of UNRWA’s ability to ensure neutrality is also due to be concluded this month.

Seated next to Lazzarini in the Security Council, Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan on Thursday accused UNRWA of being “the world’s biggest advocate for a one state solution - a Palestinian state, from the river to the sea.” “UNRWA’s goal is not aid or real education. In practice, UNRWA is creating a sea of Palestinian refugees, millions of them, indoctrinated to believe that Israel belongs to them,” Erdan told the council. “Israel cannot and will not allow UNRWA to continue in Gaza as it did in the past.”

UNRWA was created in 1949 by the UN General Assembly to help Palestinian refugees following a war surrounding the founding of Israel, when 700,000 Palestinians were displaced. Many fled to Gaza.

Lazzarini said UNRWA is facing a campaign to push it out. “In Gaza, the government of Israel seeks to end UNRWA’s activities. The agency’s requests to deliver aid to the north are repeatedly denied.