Head of UN agency blocked from Gaza – and he says it would be 'easy to flood territory with food'

By Isaac M March 21, 2024

The head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees says he has been blocked from entering Gaza.

Philippe Lazzarini claimed it was the first time this had happened to an UNRWA commissioner-general in its history.

Speaking on Sky News’ The World With Yalda Hakim, Mr Lazzarini said it would be “easy to flood Gaza with food” – but he was prevented from entering the besieged territory earlier this week.

He has accused Israel of singling him out and challenged the country’s claim he was barred due to mistakes on his entry application.

Palestinians walk past the ruins of destroyed houses in Gaza City. Pic: Reuters
Palestinians walk past the ruins of destroyed houses in Gaza City. Pic: Reuters

Mr Lazzarini, who has been to Gaza numerous times before, says he was the only member of his delegation to be blocked by the Israeli defence body COGAT from entering on Monday.

It comes as Israel faces pressure from Western allies, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains steadfast in his commitment to a ground invasion of Rafah, where he claims Hamas’s remaining battalions are hiding.

The nation has been accused of restricting the flow of aid into Gaza, something it has denied but the UN previously said could amount to war crimes.

Talking to Sky News, Mr Lazzarini said: “It is easy to flood Gaza with food, it’s easy to reverse this trend.”

He continued: “I was supposed to go to Gaza on Monday. I was in Cairo, when I was informed by the Israeli authorities that I will not be allowed to go into Gaza despite the fact that the rest of my delegation was allowed to enter.

“It is the first time in the history of the agency that the commissioner-general has been deliberately denied entry into Gaza.”

UNRWA is the largest aid organisation in Gaza. Israel has accused the agency of providing cover for Hamas and alleges at least 12 UNRWA workers took part in the October 7 attack on southern Israel.

Humanitarian aid has had to be dropped in via the air to make it into the Gaza Strip. Pic: Reuters
Some humanitarian aid has been dropped into Gaza from the air. Pic: Reuters

Among other developments in the Israel-Hamas war:

• Canada has continued its freeze on arms exports to Israel.

• There has been fighting around the Al Shifa Hospital for a third day as the Israeli military said it arrested hundreds of people and Gaza officials said thousands of patients, medical staff and others were trapped inside.

• Mourners held funeral prayers outside a different hospital for 28 people killed in three separate Israeli airstrikes on refugee camps on Tuesday night.

• Middle East foreign ministers and a top Palestinian official will meet US secretary of state Antony Blinken in Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday as he pushes for a pause in fighting.

• At least 31,819 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza by Israel, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, as around 100 hostages remain trapped along with the remains of 30 others.

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‘Our abductors were overjoyed’

Read more:
Israeli spokesperson suspended after reports of row with Foreign Office
Largest UK aid package to feed 275,000 people in Gaza
Woman held hostage after Hamas killed her husband and daughter describes ordeal

Also appearing on The World With Yalda Hakim was David Miliband, president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee.

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Miliband calls for more Gaza aid trucks

When asked what he would say to Israeli officials, Mr Miliband said: “I would say release the stranglehold on the number of trucks going in.

“Streamline the process for vetting, once the UN has vetted the food you’ve got to be able to smooth the flow.

“It’s also a matter of opening other crossing points because we need to make sure the whole of the Gaza Strip gets food aid.

“Remember in the north of Gaza you’ve got a population that was considered beyond the conflict after the first few months.

“There’s now a new resurgence around the Al Shifa hospital in fighting but there can’t be a military justification for a restriction on food aid.”


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