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UNRWA head says Israel denied him entry to Gaza Strip

“This is another attempt by UNRWA to blame Israel for their own mistakes,” the Jewish state said.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), briefs reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York, March 4, 2024. Photo by Mark Garten/U.N. Photo.
Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), briefs reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York, March 4, 2024. Photo by Mark Garten/U.N. Photo.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, charged that Israel denied him entry to the Gaza Strip on Monday—the same day that new data came out about imminent famine in the northern part of the coastal enclave.

“Children are now dying of dehydration and hunger. UNRWA has by far the largest presence among all humanitarian organizations in Gaza,” he wrote. “My visit today was supposed to coordinate and improve the humanitarian response.”

“This man-made starvation under our watch is a stain on our collective humanity,” he added. “Too much time was wasted. All land crossings must open now. Famine can be averted with political will.”

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli body that handles civilian and humanitarian affairs in Palestinian-controlled territories, responded that Lazzarini’s denial of entry was his own fault.

“The UNRWA commissioner’s request to coordinate his entry into the Gaza Strip was not submitted by the necessary coordination processes and channels. This was promptly communicated to the relevant U.N. bodies,” COGAT stated. “This is another attempt by UNRWA to blame Israel for their own mistakes.”

Lazzarini’s statement cited a report from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) initiative, claiming that famine in northern Gaza was imminent. He didn’t blame Israel specifically, but Lazzarini has made clear on other occasions that he faults Israel for blocking or delaying humanitarian aid. 

The Israeli government has consistently cited the U.N.’s inability to deliver aid efficiently and Hamas’s persistent theft of supplies once items reach Gaza. 

Israel has granted Lazzarini access to Gaza on multiple occasions since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas in southern Israel, including after the Jewish state charged publicly that some 12 UNRWA workers also participated in the murder spree that ended with 1,200 people killed. It has also alleged that thousands of UNRWA workers have direct ties to Hamas and other Gazan terror groups.

After initially suspending financial support of UNRWA, some countries have resumed aid. Washington, UNRWA’s biggest benefactor, has not resumed funding the embattled U.N. agency.

Democrat and Republican leaders in Congress agreed that no funding for UNRWA will be included in any spending plans through at least March 2025, per media reports on Monday.

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