The head of UNRWA warns that the agency may have to suspend all its humanitarian activities due to lack of fuel.
The head of the United Nations Palestine Refugee Agency has warned of a “deliberate attempt to suppress” its operations in the Gaza Strip and said it risks disrupting all its humanitarian work due to lack of fuel.
Israel refused to allow fuel supplies to the enclave it was besieging, arguing that it would be used by the Palestinian group Hamas for military purposes.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) supports more than 800,000 displaced people in Gaza. According to Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini, its activities were at risk of being completely suspended.
“I am convinced that there was a deliberate attempt to suppress our operation and paralyze UNRWA’s operations,” Lazzarini said on Thursday at a news conference in Geneva.
“We have been pleading for weeks, warning about the impact of the fuel shortage,” he said, adding that the agency had been able to tap into the territory’s remaining fuel reserves over the past few weeks.
“But now we’re running out,” he said. “We risk having to suspend the entire humanitarian operation.”
Israel cut off fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip as part of a “total siege” of the area after Gaza-based Hamas militants launched an attack on southern Israel on October 7, killing around 1,200 people, according to Israeli authorities.
Since the attack, Israel has bombarded Palestinian territory, launched a ground offensive and severely restricted supplies of water, food and electricity. According to Palestinian authorities, more than 11,600 people were killed in the Israeli attack, including more than 4,700 children.
The first fuel truck to enter Gaza since Israel began the siege arrived on Wednesday.
UNRWA reported receiving 23,000 liters (6,075 gal) of fuel. However, Israeli authorities limited its use only to transporting aid delivered from Egypt.
Lazzarini said 160,000 liters (42,000 gallons) a day are needed to carry out basic humanitarian activities.
“I think it’s outrageous that humanitarian agencies have been reduced to begging for fuel,” he told reporters.
Lazzarini said humanitarian conditions have now seriously deteriorated as 70 percent of southern Gaza’s population lacks access to clean water and untreated sewage has begun flowing into the streets.
Fuel is needed to operate water desalination plants, sewage pumping stations and bakeries.
Earlier on Thursday, Palestinian telecommunications companies Jawwal and Paltel announced their network has stopped working in Gaza as “all energy sources keeping it running” have been exhausted, plunging the enclave into a near-total communications blackout and severely hampering the work of emergency and rescue services.
“It can provoke or accelerate [the breakdown of the] the last remaining civil order we have in the Gaza Strip,” Lazzarini said of the power outage, calling the scale of loss and destruction in Gaza “simply staggering.”
UNRWA said the telecommunications outage “prevents the management or coordination of humanitarian aid convoys.” He announced that the cross-border aid operation at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt – the only one open to aid deliveries – would be suspended on Friday.
There will be NO cross-border aid operation at Rafah Crossing tomorrow.
Communication network in #Gauze it doesn’t work because there is NO fuel.
This makes it impossible to manage or coordinate humanitarian aid convoys. pic.twitter.com/Kaj8z0lE9f
— UNRWA (@UNRWA) November 16, 2023
Lazzarini said the fuel was being used as a “weapon of war.”
“Today we are saying that if fuel is not supplied, people will start dying from lack of fuel,” he said.