UNRWA head says aid shipment blocked in Israeli port

UNRWA head says aid shipment blocked in Israeli port

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters): The main United Nations agency providing aid to Palestinians in Gaza is facing growing administrative hurdles from Israel, with a shipment amounting to a month’s supply of food blocked in port, the agency’s chief said.

Israel has alleged that 12 staff members with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) were involved in the Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7, with a number of donor countries suspending funding. UNRWA has dismissed staff accused of involvement in the attack and launched an investigation.

“We have an environment here which is for the time being quite hostile to the agency but there have been some decisions now which are starting to impact the ability of the agency to properly operate,” UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini said on Friday. He said UNRWA had been informed by a contractor that provided handling services in the port of Ashdod that it could no longer continue working with UNRWA, following instructions from the Israeli authorities.

As a result, a shipment from Turkey consisting of 1,049 containers of supplies including flour, chickpeas, sugar, cooking oil, enough to cover the needs of 1.1 million people for a month, was blocked in the port, Lazzarini said.

He said UNRWA had informed Turkey of the stoppage. There was no immediate comment from Turkish authorities.

A spokesperson for the finance ministry said the matter was in the hands of the government’s legal advisor but offered no further comment.

The incident came as Gaza faces a growing humanitarian emergency, with hundreds of thousands facing acute deprivation and hunger, some four months after Israel launched its invasion of the blockaded coastal enclave.

Last week, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced on social media platform X that Israel was cancelling tax breaks previously offered to UNRWA. The decision was not formally communicated to the agency which only learned about it when the statement appeared on the platform, Lazzarini said.

UNRWA was set up to help Palestinian refugees who were forced from their homes or fled during the 1948 war that accompanied the foundation of the state of Israel. It still distributes aid and provides education to their descendants in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Israel has long accused it of contributing to the conflict by fostering Palestinian militant groups and the accusations have ratcheted up sharply since the Oct. 7 attack.