Egypt FM Shoukry blames Israel for denying UNRWA chief Lazzarini entry to Rafah

Ahram Online , Monday 18 Mar 2024

Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry has blamed Israeli authorities for refusing to allow the entry of Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, to Gaza’s southern city of Rafah on Monday.



Lazzarini revealed, in a press conference in Cairo with FM Shoukry, that he had planned to visit Rafah but was informed that his entry had been denied.

Shoukry described this entry refusal of a high-level UN official while carrying out his duties as “unprecedented.”

Rafah currently houses nearly 1.5 million Palestinians, more than half of the Gaza population, most of whom were displaced by the war.

Last week, Israel approved a ground operation in Rafah, although Egypt and other world countries, including Israel’s Western allies, have warned against this step and its disastrous humanitarian consequences.

Israel has devised a so-called plan to evacuate the Rafah population to what it calls “humanitarian islands” in central Gaza — a plan that UNRWA described as “catastrophic.”

Lazzarini has accused Israel of waging a concerted campaign to destroy UNRWA, asserting that abolishing the agency will resolve the Palestinian refugees’ status and their right to return.

Major donors, including the United States, Britain, and Germany, halted their funding to the agency in February, following Israeli allegations that 12 UNRWA staff were involved in Hamas’ 7 October operation against Israel.

As Israel failed to provide any evidence for the claims made against UNRWA staff, the European Union, Sweden, Denmark, and Canada have rescinded their previous decisions and announced plans to resume funding for UNRWA.

Lazzarini stated in February that $438 million, more than half of the income projected for 2024, has been frozen.

However, the European Union and some countries, including Canada and Australia, announced they will resume UNRWA funding.

Baseless accusations

“Funding for UNRWA, the UN agency serving millions of Palestinian refugees in various regions, should not be constrained by baseless accusations,” Shoukry stressed during the press conference.

Shoukry commended UNRWA's efforts in assisting Palestinians across different areas, including Syria, Jordan, Gaza, and the West Bank.

He emphasized the importance of continuing financial support for UNRWA.

“UNRWA’s reputation and 40,000 staff should not be tarnished by mere allegations lacking evidence,” Shoukry affirmed.

The international community must recognize the burden and responsibility it has to shoulder if the UNRWA stops to exist, Shoukry added.

‘Man-made’ hunger crisis

Lazzarini, during the presser, reiterated warnings against a looming famine in Gaza, affirming that the current hunger crisis in the strip is “man-made.”

He said the presence of a proper political will can address this crisis and flood Gaza with food aid through the land crossings.

“We are engaged in a race against the clock to try to reverse the impact of the spreading hunger and the looming famine in the Gaza Strip,” Lazzarini added.

He said the UNRWA has paid a huge cost in Gaza as strikes have killed many of its employees and destroyed 150 facilities. In addition, 400 people were killed while seeking shelter under the UN flag.

Moreover, several UNRWA staff have been arrested and faced tough investigation, ill-treatment, and humiliation, Lazzarini added.

Israel’s war has pushed a quarter of the 2.3 Gaza population to the brink of famine, according to UN estimations.

Recently, more than a couple dozen children have reportedly lost their lives to malnutrition and dehydration.

In mid-March, a UNICEF report said acute malnutrition in northern Gaza has doubled since January.

Israel, accused by UN officials of deliberately starving Gaza, is facing mounting pressure to allow more aid entry to the strip via land crossings.

UN activists have asserted that aid delivered via air and sea is less efficient.

Since 7 October, the Israeli war on Gaza has claimed the lives of 31,726 people, most of whom are women and children, destroying most of the strip’s infrastructure.

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