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UNRWA suspends aid to Rafah citing insecurity, lack of supplies amid Israel-Hamas war

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(NEW YORK) — The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) announced Tuesday it has suspended aid deliveries in the southern border city of Rafah due to security concerns amid ongoing hostilities and a lack of supplies.

The agency also said just seven out of its 24 health centers are operational and that those centers had not received any medical supplies in the last 10 days to “closures” and “disruptions” at the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings, according to an UNRWA statement posted on X.

UNRWA said its distribution center and the World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse are located in eastern Rafah and have been inaccessible as a result of Israel’s ongoing military operation in the area.

“We have a lot of people on the ground ready to provide aid and provide services, but without access across the borders to any supplies and without access to our distribution centers, we are simply unable to distribute food,” UNRWA spokesperson Louise Wateridge said Wednesday.

The WFP said in a post on X that it ran out of food to distribute to families in Rafah.

“Thousands of families still in #Rafah need aid,” WFP in the Middle East wrote on the social media platform.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) dropped leaflets in Rafah and sent text messages in Arabic on May 6 calling for about 100,000 people to evacuate the eastern part of the city and to head north to the Al-Mawasi humanitarian corridor ahead of a long-promised major ground invasion into Rafah. As of Monday, UNRWA estimates that 810,000 people have evacuated from Rafah.

While the crossings in the south are either closed or have limited access, the Erez West/Zikim crossing is open in northern Gaza , which is experiencing “full-blown famine,” according to WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain.

However, in update to the U.N. Security Council on Monday, Tor Wennesland, U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said “much more aid is needed to meet the enormous scale of the needs. … There is no substitute for the full and increased operation of existing land crossings.”

“I am deeply concerned that the current trajectory — including the possibility of a larger-scale operation — will further undermine efforts to scale-up the entry of humanitarian goods and their safe distribution to desperate civilians,” he said.

UNRWA has had intermittent challenges providing aid to Gaza since Israeli officials alleged in January that several UNRWA members participated in Hamas’ Oct. 7, 2023 surprise terrorist attack in Israel.

UNRWA said it terminated the accused employees after the allegations were made public. An independent investigation by the U.N.’s Office of Internal Oversight is ongoing. Meanwhile, a separate independent review released last month found that Israel has yet to provide evidence that UNRWA staff are members of terrorist organizations.

The UNRWA isn’t the only organization facing logistical challenges delivering aid. Very little of the aid unloaded from the temporary pier built by the U.S. off of Gaza has been distributed to the broader population, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Ryder said 569 metric tons have landed and that U.S., Israel and the United Nations are working “to identify alternative routes for the safe movement of staff and cargo.”

Since Hamas’ surprise terrorist attack in Israel, more than 35,709 people in Gaza have been killed and more than 79,990 have been injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health. More than 1,700 Israelis have been killed and 8,700 have been injured, according to Israeli officials.

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