UNRWA urgently calls on Israel to enable access to Gaza

18 May 2021

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) urgently calls on the Government of Israel to enable humanitarian supplies and its staff timely access to Gaza, in accordance with its obligations under international law.

The Agency has not received approval for critical access to Gaza for essential humanitarian supplies meant to provide relief to the distressed population, including particularly vulnerable persons such as pregnant women, children, persons with disabilities and serious medical conditions, and the elderly, despite immense needs following nine days of conflict. Approval has also not been received for its highest official to assess and support UNRWA emergency operations.

“UNRWA is urgently awaiting approval through established mechanisms to cross into Gaza,” said UNRWA Director of Strategic Communications, Tamara Alrifai.

In accordance with international law, the United Nations shall enjoy in the territory of each of its Members such privileges and immunities as are necessary for the fulfilment of its purposes.  Furthermore, the UN General Assembly has repeatedly called on governments and parties to humanitarian emergencies, including in armed conflicts, to cooperate fully with the UN and ensure safe and unhindered access of humanitarian personnel and delivery of supplies and equipment.

Furthermore, under international humanitarian and human rights law, parties to a conflict are under an obligation to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of impartial humanitarian relief to the civilian population, and to respect and protect their right to essential levels of human rights such as food, primary health care, and basic shelter and housing. In addition, the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically obliges the occupying power to ensure food and medical supplies for the civilian population.

The conflict has already left more than 200 people dead, including more than 50 children, and has displaced over 47,000 people who either lost their homes, access to water or electricity, or were forced to flee to protect themselves and their families. Most have found refuge in UNRWA schools, as has happened in previous conflicts but is rendered more challenging this time due to the prevalence of COVID-19 and difficulties for officials and assistance to access Gaza when the needs are greatest.

It is paramount that all parties respect the inviolability and humanitarian character of schools and officials operating in Gaza in accordance with international law to ensure UNRWA schools can remain safe spaces for displaced families.

“A humanitarian truce is absolutely necessary now. It cannot wait,” said Ms Alrifai. “Every day without a ceasefire is a day with more lives lost, more homes and livelihoods destroyed. This is unacceptable.”

Update: On the same day, Israeli authorities announced - just hours after the Kerem Shalom crossing opened - that they were shutting it down following reports that mortars were fired at the crossing. Reported incidents also led to the closure of Eretz crossing preventing humanitarian personnel to cross into Gaza. This followed earlier indication that they will be able to cross. Out of 24 humanitarian trucks scheduled to enter Gaza, only five UNRWA fuel trucks were able to pass through