Unrwa accuses Israel of frequently preventing aid deliveries to Gaza

International Desk Published: 13 June 2024, 08:09 PM | Updated: 13 June 2024, 08:53 PM
Unrwa accuses Israel of frequently preventing aid deliveries to Gaza
Palestinian children wait to recieve food distributed by charitable organisations at an Unrwa school in Jabalia refugee camp, Gaza. Photo: Getty Images via The Guardian

The UN’s relief agency for Palestinians, the largest aid organisation operating in Gaza, has said Israeli authorities are frequently preventing it from delivering aid and hampering its operations in the territory.

“We are getting very few positive responses to our requests for aid delivery and permits to move around Gaza,” said Tamara Alrifai, the director of external relations for Unrwa.

Alrifai said the organisation maintained contact with Cogat, the Israeli body that oversees the Palestinian territories and coordinates with aid groups, but “this contact doesn’t always bring positive results – as we can see, from the obstructions to delivery, to our ability to receive [aid] trucks”.

Israel has accused some of Unrwa’s employees of taking part in Hamas’s 7 October attack and of being members of terrorist organisations. In April an independent review led by the former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna concluded Israel had yet to provide evidence for the membership claim.

Attacks on the UN and Unrwa by Israeli officials predate the current war in Gaza but have intensified since October. Israel officials said in March that they would “no longer work with Unrwa”, although contact continued. Last month the Israeli ambassador to the UN said the entire organisation had become “a terrorist entity”.

A Cogat spokesperson said the organisation had daily communications with Unrwa, before repeating accusations about the organisation’s relationship with Hamas.

Alrifai pointed to a slow response by the Israeli authorities after an attack by settlers on the Unrwa compound in East Jerusalem, and increasing visa restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on its staff, including the commissioner, Philippe Lazzarini, as evidence that its operations were being hampered.

“Between the public, politically driven attacks on Unrwa by Israeli officials and the constant obstructions to our ability to work, both in Gaza and in East Jerusalem and the West Bank … all of this is indeed seeking to discredit us, and ultimately dislodge us from the occupied Palestinian Territories,” she said.

The UN agency has also been sidelined by the construction by the US military of a floating aid pier off the Gaza coastline. The organisation has long coordinated the passage of all aid entering Gaza via two border crossings in the south of the territory.

The US-run pier has become Gaza’s sole entry point for most aid other than fuel, after Israeli forces seized control of the Rafah crossing early last month. In the six weeks since, a total of just 627 trucks have passed the second crossing point, Kerem Shalom, according to UN data, a fraction of what aid groups say is needed.

The $320m (£250m) offshore platform went into operation in May, receiving aid shipped from Cyprus. Once it reaches the pier the aid is screened again by Israeli forces before distribution via the World Food Programme (WFP), using Unrwa’s warehouses and trucks.

“Obviously I wish the land borders were open, as the pier is not the solution, but my priority is getting help to people in need. I have no other choice until the politicians do their job,” said the American philanthropist Amed Khan, who has sent medicine to Gaza through Elpida, his charity based in Greece.

“My boycotting the pier would not make them open the land borders,” he added.

WFP said 137 trucks of aid made it off the dock during the eight days the pier was operational last month, a quarter of what relief groups say entered Gaza daily before the war.

The pier has been beset by problems, with the Pentagon forced to halt deliveries in late May when part of it was damaged by heavy seas and stormy weather. Operations resumed, but the WFP said last weekend it was forced to pause deliveries again, citing security concerns, before resuming earlier this week.

The US military said this week that it had overseen the delivery of 1,573 metric tonnes of aid to date via the pier, equivalent to 50 to 105 trucks, according to UN estimates, a fifth of the number that entered the territory daily prewar.

“At the end of the day it’s about the volume of aid that comes in and whether it’s sufficient to feed, support, and give medical services to over 2 million people. The answer is no, it is very much insufficient,” said Alrifai.

Palestinians struggling to survive on what little aid is able to enter said they felt this shortage acutely, amid reports of looming famine in parts of Gaza.

“The food prices have become really expensive now,” said Awni Shwaikh, who has been displaced to Deir al-Balah in central Gaza. The price of a kilo of tomatoes is up to five times more expensive than before, he said.

“Mostly we’re eating canned foods, like chickpeas and beans, those types of things. It’s not enough for all of us.”

Speaking to journalists after a conference on urgent humanitarian relief for Gaza hosted by Jordan this week, Suze van Meegen of the Norwegian Refugee Council said aid groups were constantly struggling with how to deliver aid amid the closure of most aid routes.

“We are forced to celebrate the opening of a window every time a door slams,” she said.

Source: The Guardian