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Lazzarini persona non grata in Gaza

1 min

Israel denied the head of the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) entry to the Gaza Strip on Monday, UNRWA and Egypt said, calling it an unprecedented move at a time of massive need.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini looks on as he speaks to the media, amid the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Cairo, March 18, 2024. Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Israel denied the head of the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) entry to the Gaza Strip on Monday, UNRWA and Egypt said, calling it an unprecedented move at a time of massive need.

Philippe Lazzarini, whose organisation has been in crisis since Israel accused 12 of its staff of taking part in Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel, said he meant to go to the Gaza city of Rafah but was informed: "my entry into Rafah is declined".

Speaking with him at a Cairo news conference, Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry said: "You were declined by the Israeli government, refused the entry which is an unprecedented move for (a) representative at this high position".

The Israeli prime minister's office and foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

UNRWA is by far the largest relief body in Gaza, where the depth of the humanitarian crisis was underlined on Monday when a U.N.-backed report warned of imminent famine in the north.

Israel alleged in January that 12 of UNRWA's 13,000 staff in Gaza took part in the Oct. 7 attack. The Israeli accusations led 16 countries including the United States to pause $450 million in funding, throwing UNRWA operations into crisis.

UNRWA fired some staff members, saying it acted in order to protect the agency's ability to deliver humanitarian assistance, and an independent internal U.N. investigation was launched.

UNRWA has condemned the Oct. 7 attacks, saying the Israeli allegations against the agency - if true - are a betrayal of U.N. values and of the people UNRWA serves.

Philippe Lazzarini, like other prominent members of the United Nations, traditionally holds a hostile stance towards Israel.

It is known that UNRWA in Gaza has always maintained close ties with terrorist organizations.

Reporting by Sarah El Safty, Nayera Abdallah, Clauda Tanios, Tom Perry in Beirut, James Mackenzie and Emily Rose in Jerusalem

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