UNRWA camps in Khan Younis, Gaza. Photo: UN News
More than 103 workers of the UN refugee agency have been killed and over 60 of its camps sheltering displaced Palestinians have been bombed by Israel since October 7
The United Nation Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) has claimed that there is a deliberate attempt to strangle its activities in the besieged Gaza strip by Israel which may lead to the shutting down all its humanitarian activities.
Speaking to the press on Thursday, November 16, Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said there is a risk of the agency shutting down all its humanitarian work in the region due to lack of fuel and consistent attacks on its activities.
“I do believe there is a deliberate attempt to strangle our operation and paralyze the UNRWA operation,” Lazzarini said.
Created in 1950 for Palestinians who were forced to leave by Israel during the Nakba, UNRWA provides shelter to around 800,000 Palestinians displaced due to ongoing Israeli bombings in Gaza which began on October 7. It also coordinates food and medical aid in the region, apart from providing other humanitarian relief to Palestinians affected by Israeli attacks.
Israel has been bombing Gaza’s residents and civil infrastructure, including hospitals, since October 7, killing nearly 11,500 Palestinians and injuring over 29,000. It has also launched a ground offensive attacking hospitals and shelters for the displaced.
Workers and facilities under attack
Over 70% of Gaza’s total 2.2 million people has been displaced due to Israeli bombings and ground invasion.
“We have just witnessed over the last few weeks, the largest displacement of Palestinians since 1948. It’s an exodus under our watch. A river of people being forced to flee their homes,” Lazzarini said.
Several of its schools used for sheltering the displaced have been bombed. According to Lazzarini, at least 60 such shelters have been bombed since October 7 killing dozens of Palestinians and injuring hundreds.
At least 103 UNRWA workers too have been killed in Israel’s indiscriminate attacks.
Lazzarini also stated that the breakdown of telecommunication services in the region makes it difficult to coordinate the humanitarian aid delivery activities and persistence of this can “provoke or accelerate” the breakdown of whatever civil order is remaining in Gaza.
UNRWA announced that due to lack of coordination, the aid delivery through the Egyptian border at Rafah would be suspended on Friday.
Lazzarini also described the overall humanitarian situation in Gaza as having “severely deteriorated,” highlighting that more than 70% of Gazans are completely deprived of access to clean water and sanitation with sewage flowing onto streets.
According to Lazzarini, nearly 30% of all Palestinians taking shelter in its camps have exhibited symptoms of skin illness due to lack of sanitation.
Israel using fuel as weapon of war
“It is appalling that fuel continues to be used as a weapon of war,” Lazzarini had tweeted on Wednesday.
Israel imposed a complete blockade on the supply of fuel and all other essential commodities inside Gaza on October 9 as a part of its war against the Palestinians.
Israel allowed a limited supply of fuel through the Rafah border on Wednesday. UNRWA has argued that it is not enough.
A truck carrying 23,000 liters of fuel was allowed to enter Gaza. However, this half a tanker of fuel is only for the UN trucks.
Despite the shortage of fuel being the cause of shutting down of a large number of health facilities in Gaza, Israel has refused to allow the use of fuel received through aid by hospitals.
UNRWA estimates that 160,000 liters of fuel is required every day just to keep the basic humanitarian work such as hospitals, ambulances, and aid delivery running.
“I do believe that it is outrageous that humanitarian agencies have been reduced to begging for fuel,” Lazzarini added.
Without fuel and electricity, it is not possible to run water supply or sewage cleaning operations.
The infrastructure has also been damaged in the Israeli bombings which would require heavy repair work before any meaningful resumption of supply of water or sewage cleaning can be carried out.
Several other UN agencies warned about the looming food crisis in the region and fear of widespread starvation among the Palestinians due to Israeli blockade.