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Israel tells UN it will reject UNRWA food convoys into northern Gaza

“As of today, UNRWA, the main lifeline for Palestine refugees, is denied from providing lifesaving assistance to northern Gaza,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini wrote in a social media post on X.

He called the decision “outrageous”, saying it was made to intentionally obstruct lifesaving aid deliveries during a man-made famine in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.

He underlined the need to lift this ban, adding that UNRWA – the backbone of the humanitarian response in Gaza – is the largest relief agency in the Strip and has the greatest ability to reach displaced communities there.

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‘Restrictions must be lifted’

“Despite the tragedy unfolding under our watch, the Israeli authorities informed the UN that they will no longer approve  any UNRWA food convoys to the north. This is outrageous & makes it intentional to obstruct lifesaving assistance during a man-made famine,” he wrote.

“These restrictions must be lifted,” he continued.

“By preventing UNRWA to fulfill its mandate in Gaza, the clock will tick faster towards famine & many more will die of hunger, dehydration + lack of shelter,” he warned. “This cannot happen, it would only stain our collective humanity.”

WHO slams fresh aid ban

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus slammed the new order.

“Blocking UNRWA from delivering food is in fact denying starving people the ability to survive,” he said in a social media post.

“This decision must be urgently reversed,” he continued.

“The levels of hunger are acute. All efforts to deliver food should not only be permitted but there should be an immediate acceleration of food deliveries.”

UN relief chief: UNRWA is ‘beating heart’ of aid in Gaza

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths echoed that message.

“I have urged Israel to lift all impediments on aid to Gaza. Now this – MORE impediments,” he wrote on social media.

“UNRWA is the beating heart of the humanitarian response in Gaza,” he stated.

“The decision to block its food convoys to the north only pushes thousands closer to famine,” he warned. “It must be revoked.”

Famine warnings

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report on Gaza Strip stated last week that famine is imminent in the northern part of the Strip and is expected to occur between now and May in the two northern governorates, which are home to about 300,000 people.

Upon the report’s release, UN Secretary General António Guterres described the findings as an “appalling indictment of conditions on the ground for civilians”.

“Palestinians in Gaza are enduring horrifying levels of hunger and suffering,” he said at the time. “This is an entirely man-made disaster, and the report makes clear that it can be halted.”

Read our explainer on what famine is here.

A UN mission to Al-Shifa Hospital in mid-March delivered fuel, medical supplies and food parcels.
© WHO

A UN mission to Al-Shifa Hospital in mid-March delivered fuel, medical supplies and food parcels.

In Egypt, UN chief calls for flooding Gaza with aid

The UN chief is currently in the region on his annual Ramadan solidarity trip, having visited with Palestinian women and children injured by Israeli attacks on Gaza, and strongly renewed his call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. His trip included a visit to the Rafah border crossing into Gaza and planned meetings in Egypt and Jordan.

Earlier on Sunday, Mr. Guterres met the press in Cairo, reiterating that call.

“Palestinians in Gaza desperately need what has been promised: a flood of aid,” he said, “not trickles, not drops.”

He said some progress has been made, but much more needs to be done, and making that increasing aid flows requires very practical steps.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the media in Cairo.
UN Photo/Mark Garten

UN Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the media in Cairo.

Israel must remove ‘chokepoints to relief’

“It requires Israel removing the remaining obstacles and chokepoints to relief,” Mr. Guterres explained. “It requires more crossings and access points. All alternative routes are, of course, welcome, but the only efficient and effective way to move heavy goods is by road. It requires an exponential increase in commercial goods, and, I repeat, it requires an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.”

He said efforts must ensure that ample aid shipments are delivered as soon as possible.

“The current horrors in Gaza serve no one and are having an impact around the globe,” he said. “The daily assault on the human dignity of Palestinians is creating a crisis of credibility for the international community.”

 

US financing situation

Early on Sunday, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General said that there will be widespread consequences for Palestine refugees in Gaza and the region following the newly passed United States foreign aid spending bill for 2024, which limits funding to the agency until March 2025.

He said the humanitarian community in Gaza is racing against time to avoid famine and that any gap in funding for UNRWA will undermine access to food, shelter, primary health care and education at an extremely difficult time.

Palestine refugees are counting on the international community to increase its support to meet their basic needs, he said.

UNRWA will continue its mandate

UNRWA supports about 5.9 million Palestinian refugees in its five areas of operations: Gaza, the West Bank including East Jerusalem, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Mr. Lazzarini expressed his appreciation for UNRWA’s supporters from members of the US Congress “who are speaking on behalf of the agency during this difficult period” and for US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s support last week with the European Union.

The UNRWA chief stressed that the agency will continue to work with the US on the path of joint commitment towards Palestine refugees and peace and stability throughout the region.

He said that UNRWA, along with donors and partners, will continue to implement its mandate entrusted to it by the UN General Assembly to protect the rights of Palestine refugees until a lasting political solution is reached.

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