UNRWA chief Lazzarini says Israel blocked him from entering Gaza

UNRWA chief Lazzarini says Israel blocked him from entering Gaza


Lazzarini wrote on X that he had been denied entry by "Israeli authorities"

Follow on
Follow us on Google News

Cairo (AFP) – The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said on Monday Israel had blocked him from entering the war-torn and besieged Gaza Strip where the UN has warned of impending famine.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said he had "intended to go into Rafah today, but was informed my entry had been declined," speaking in a Cairo joint press conference with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

Lazzarini later wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that he had been denied entry by "Israeli authorities", a claim Israel did not immediately comment on.

The UN agency, which coordinates nearly all aid to Gaza, has been in crisis since Israel accused about a dozen of its 13,000 Gaza employees of being involved in the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

This led multiple donor nations including the United States to suspend funding although some of them have since resumed or increased it including Spain, Canada and Australia.

Israeli authorities did not respond to an AFP request for comment, but government spokesman Avi Hyman earlier Monday reiterated what he called Israel's position, that "UNRWA is a front for Hamas".

Shoukry expressed Cairo's "complete support" for the agency and criticised "unilateral actions to restrict UNRWA funding due to baseless accusations".

The Hamas attack of October 7 resulted in about 1,160 deaths, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Israel's retaliatory campaign in Hamas-controlled Gaza has killed at least 31,726 people, mostly women and children, according to the territory's health ministry.

'Man-made starvation'

Among the dead are 168 UNRWA employees, according to the agency's latest figures.

"More than 150 of our facilities have been destroyed in the Gaza Strip," he said.

"And a number of our staff were arrested and endured ill-treatment and humiliation during the investigation."

In more than five months of war and siege, the humanitarian situation in Gaza has deteriorated to what the UN has repeatedly warned is an imminent famine.

"This is man-made starvation," Lazzarini said.

The Gaza health ministry has in recent weeks recorded at least 27 deaths from malnutrition and dehydration, most of them children.

The UN said Monday that half of the territory's 2.4 million people are experiencing "catastrophic hunger and starvation".

Humanitarian aid operations have intensified in recent weeks, including airdrops and efforts for a maritime humanitarian corridor from Cyprus, but UN and other aid agencies warn that these are insufficient to meet the desperate needs in Gaza.