Israel is holding up food for 1.1 million Palestinians in Gaza, the main UN aid agency there says

Feb 9, 2024

Jerusalem: Israel has imposed mainly financial sanctions united nations agency provide assistance in Gaza Bar, a measure that stops the shipment Eat for 1.1 million Palestinians The agency's director said on Friday, after reaching the war-torn area. The sanctions deepen the crisis between Israel and UNRWA, whose operations have been threatened following Israeli allegations that some of its workers took part in the October 7 attack that triggered Israel's war in Gaza. Due to those allegations, major donor countries including America had to stop funding of the United Nations Organization and its future was put into question.
UNRWA Director Philippe Lazzarini said on Friday that a convoy of food donated by Turkey has been parked in the Israeli port city of Ashdod for weeks. The agency said the Israeli contractor they work with received a call from Israeli customs officials, “ordering them not to process any UNRWA goods.”
That blockage means that 1,049 shipping containers of rice, flour, chickpeas, sugar and cooking oil – enough to feed 1.1 million people for a month – are stuck, even in Gaza. 25% of the families are facing severe hunger.
The World Food Program warned on Friday that Gaza could reach famine as early as May. The UN food agency defines famine as when 30% of children are undernourished, one-fifth of families face severe food shortages and two out of every 10,000 people are dying of hunger or malnutrition.
Israel declared war and imposed a siege on Gaza in response to the October 7 Hamas attack, killing 1,200 and taking 250 others hostage. The war has caused a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with only a small amount of humanitarian aid entering the area each day.
Israel has long railed against UNRWA, accusing it of collaborating with Hamas and tolerating or perpetuating the 76-year-old Palestinian refugee crisis. UNRWA, which serves about 6 million Palestinians whose families were displaced during the war that surrounds Israel's creation in 1948, denies the allegations. But tension has increased further after Israel's latest allegations.
Juliet Touma, the agency's communications director, said UNWRA's bank account with Bank Leumi, which the agency had held for decades, was also frozen this week. Furthermore, Touma said that Israeli customs officials informed the agency that UNRWA would no longer be granted tax exemptions.
Israel's Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich tweeted Thursday that “the State of Israel will not give tax benefits to terrorist associates.”
Smotrich, a far-right ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, did not respond to a request for comment.
The agency has been able to re-route other aid shipments through Port Said in Egypt, but Lazzarini warned on Friday that the holdup means more difficulties in the already challenging task of distributing aid to Gaza. About 80% of Gaza's 2.3 million people have been displaced by the war.
UNWRA is the main provider of aid to Palestinians in Gaza, but Israeli bombardment and fighting between Israel and Hamas has made much of the area too dangerous for aid convoys. The agency has been unable to deliver aid to about 300,000 Palestinians who are still in northern Gaza, where the World Food Program says food insecurity is at its worst.
Lazzarini said efforts have instead focused on the 1.3 million displaced Palestinians taking refuge in makeshift tent camps in Rafah, a city on the border with Egypt, where the agency has been escorting aid convoys to distribution points to prevent pilferage. It depends on the local police for this. But even this has become challenging, as Israeli warplanes are bombing the city.
Eight police officers were killed in the city in airstrikes over the past four days, Lazzarini said, making the police reluctant to continue helping the agency. Three attacks occurred near the UNWRA clinic, Lazzarini said. Israeli media have portrayed the police escort as an attempt by Hamas to seize the aid shipment for its own use.
Lazzarini said the police the agency works with are not affiliated with terrorist groups. Agency spokeswoman Juliet Touma said the police escort was necessary to prevent people from throwing stones at the convoy and attempting to steal aid from them.
Israel last month alleged that 12 aid agency employees had taken part in Hamas attacks in southern Israel on October 7. Several countries suspended funding amounting to about $440 million, about half of the agency's annual budget.
Two UN investigations are underway, including an independent review announced this week. The review, headed by a former French foreign minister, is expected to focus on how the agency ensures it remains neutral and responds to allegations that it failed to do so. Colonna's team plans to see if the system works and how it can be improved.
Lazzarini said on Friday that instead of suspending the 10 employees, he immediately fired them without investigating the evidence against them. By the time the allegations came to light, two others had been murdered. Lazzarini said there was too much pressure on the organization — and the current circumstances made it difficult to vet workers — to do something else.
He said, “Knowing that the organization is under fierce and appalling attack, I couldn't take the risk… I could have suspended him, but I fired him.”

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