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Palestinians across Gaza face 'man-made famine’: UNRWA

UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini

The United Nations Relief Works and Agency (UNRWA) has warned that the grip of a “man-made” famine is tightening its grip across the war-torn Gaza Strip, as Israel has severely blockaded the Palestinian territory plunging it into a humanitarian crisis.

UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini on Wednesday sounded the alert, condemning Israel for blocking aid deliveries to the besieged Gaza Strip and attempting to end the agency’s activities in the war-ravaged coastal sliver.

“Today, an insidious campaign to end UNRWA’s operations is underway, with serious implications for international peace and security,” he told the 15-member UN Security Council, warning, “Across Gaza, a man-made famine is tightening its grip.”

Lazzarini, whose agency is a critical source of support for people in Gaza, also said that in the north of the Palestinian territory, “infants and young children have begun to die of malnutrition and dehydration.”

The occupying regime, however, prevents UNRWA from delivering the desperately needed aid to starving inhabitants of Gaza.

“Across the border, food and clean water wait. But UNRWA is denied permission to deliver this aid and save lives,” Lazzarini further told the UNSC.

Founded in 1949, the agency provides services for over six million Palestinian refugees living across the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. In Gaza, it is the primary UN agency delivering healthcare, and essential humanitarian support to the Palestinians trapped in the blockaded territory.

Many of the UNRWA's 13,000 staff are Palestinian.

Israel has repeatedly equated UNRWA staff with members of Hamas, claiming that the agency has links to the Palestinian resistance group without providing any proof of the allegations. Israel has also been lobbying hard to have UNRWA closed as it is the only UN agency to have a specific mandate to look after the basic needs of Palestinian refugees. 

Under pressure from the occupying regime, Lazzarini has already fired the accused staff and an internal UN inquiry is underway into Israel’s allegations against the agency.

He has also said that its members, who had been detained, were tortured in Israeli custody, with some of them being stripped naked, among other forms of abuse.

According to UNRWA, several of its detainees were also subjected to insults and humiliation such as deprivation of water, food, sleep and toilets. In some cases, they were made to act like animals and were urinated on.

The detainees were threatened with prolonged detention, injury or the killing of their family members, the agency added.

Israel waged its genocidal war on Gaza on October 7 after the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas carried out Operation Al-Aqsa Storm against the usurping entity in retaliation for its intensified atrocities against the Palestinian people.

The war has killed more than 34,000 people, mostly women and children, in Gaza since early October. Figures also show more than 14,500 of Gaza’s 1.1 million children have been killed.

According to a report by UNRWA in February, some Israeli-detained members of the agency reported being pressured by Israeli authorities into falsely stating that UNRWA has Hamas links and that they took part in Operation Al-Aqsa Storm.

Lazzarini further told the UNSC that Israel “seeks to end UNRWA's activities. The agency’s requests to deliver aid to the north are repeatedly denied. Our staff are barred from coordination meetings between Israel and humanitarian actors.”

“Worse, UNRWA premises and staff have been targeted since the beginning of the war. 178 UNRWA personnel have been killed," he added.

According to the UN, the ongoing Israeli genocide has resulted in the internal displacement of 85 percent of Gaza's population, who are now facing severe shortages of food, clean water, and medicine.

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