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Israel’s Killing of Aid Workers May Force UN to Suspend Gaza Operations

Multiple UN aid agencies do work in Gaza, providing food, shelter, health care and other crucial services.

Israeli soldiers argue with a Palestinian man after an attack by Jewish settlers in the village of Burin, south of Nablus, in which Palestinian vehicles were burned and destroyed, on June 18, 2024.

The UN has reportedly told Israeli officials that it may soon be forced to suspend its various humanitarian aid operations in Gaza, after Israeli forces have spent months targeting and killing humanitarian workers in their genocidal assault.

Two UN officials told the Associated Press in a report published Tuesday that the UN sent a letter to Israeli officials this month saying that the UN’s aid operations in Gaza — which act in some capacities as government services — may have to come to a halt if Israel doesn’t stop targeting humanitarian workers.

The letter called for Israel to open up channels for humanitarian workers to communicate with Israeli officials about ensuring their operations are safe from the Israeli military, a process known as deconfliction, the letter reportedly said. The talks between UN and Israeli officials are ongoing, and no final decision has been made.

The UN is responsible for a wide variety of aid operations in Palestine. The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is the primary humanitarian group in Gaza, running schools, refugee camps and other shelters, and coordinating aid operations run by other groups in the area.

UNICEF, the World Food Programme, and the World Health Organization, among others, provide services like helping children and nutritional and health resources. Other groups, like the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UN Environment Programme and the UN Mine Action Service, carry out assessments of the impacts of Israel’s assault on Gaza, providing data on and a glimpse into conditions on the ground.

It’s unclear if all of these programs would be affected if the UN suspended its humanitarian programs, but the aid operations — which are the most crucial programs on a day-to-day basis — have been targeted relentlessly by Israeli forces.

The UN has already reported having to suspend its operations through the U.S. military’s pier in Gaza due to allegations that Israeli forces used the area around the pier in a brutal military operation in which they massacred nearly 300 Palestinians, raising safety concerns for workers.

Though the UN is calling for better deconfliction, groups have emphasized that even deconflicted operations have been targeted by Israeli forces.

Last month, Human Rights Watch reported that Israeli forces have targeted known aid worker locations at least eight times since October, including several incidents involving UN workers. In each of the incidents examined by Human Rights Watch, the groups had given their coordinates to Israeli officials but were shelled by Israeli forces anyway, strongly suggesting that the military specifically targeted them.

Of humanitarian groups, UNRWA has borne the brunt of Israel’s horrific extermination campaign. According to agency Chief Philippe Lazzarini, Israeli forces have killed 193 UNRWA workers in Gaza since October and massacred 250 aid workers in total so far. Israeli forces have continually targeted UNRWA facilities, often in refugee camps, damaging or destroying 190 UNRWA facilities in Gaza, or about half of the agency’s facilities in the region.

These attacks have led UNRWA to declare that Gaza is currently the most dangerous place on Earth for aid workers, making it extremely difficult for groups to carry out the work necessary to stem the famine and various epidemics raging across Gaza — that is, when Israel even allows the materials needed for such efforts to cross the border.

If the UN were to suspend its operations in Gaza, it would likely be seen as a win for Israel, which has spent years targeting humanitarian workers and groups across Palestine. Its unfounded accusations against the UNRWA in January — which caused many countries to suspend funding — were just one incident among many in which Israeli officials have tried to attack and delegitimize UNRWA over the years.

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