The UN aid agency that supports Palestinians in Gaza says 72 of its aid workers have been killed.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNWRA, employs 13,000 people in Gaza.
In all of last year, 76 UN aid workers were killed in attacks around the world.
The bombardment of the Gaza Strip has exacted a deadly toll on aid workers there, killing at least 72 employees of the United Nations relief agency since the war began on October 7.
"To date, 72 UNRWA colleagues have been killed in Gaza since the war began, often with their families," Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said in a statement on Thursday.
Since the war began, a number of UNWRA facilities — home to some 700,000 people seeking refuge — have also been "directly hit," he added, noting that at least four shelters had been damaged in the previous 24 hours.
UNWRA employs about 13,000 people in the Gaza Strip, where it provides food, shelter, and education to the Palestinian territory's large refugee population. More than half of Gaza's population of over 2 million people is dependent on the agency's assistance for daily survival.
Although the agency does not attribute blame for the deaths, Israel has dropped more than 10,000 bombs on Gaza, killing more than 9,000 people, according to the territory's Hamas-run health ministry. The bombing campaign began after Hamas launched a brutal attack in southern Israel that killed more than 1,400 people, the majority of them civilians.
This week, the Israel Defense Forces struck the Jabiliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, claiming it took out a senior Hamas commander and that the site was located above a network of tunnels carved out by the militant group. The attack also killed civilians, including one UNWRA employee.
"Overnight, we lost Mai, a bright software developer in her mid-20s with physical disabilities," Lazzarini said. "She was displaced from her home and killed in the Jabalia Refugee Camp with members of her family. "
During the last major Israeli military campaign in Gaza, in 2014, UNWRA said that 11 of its civilian aid workers were killed.
The latest Israel-Hamas war in Gaza already appears to be the deadliest conflict ever for UNWRA staff.
In an alert sent out late last month, the Aid Worker Security Database, a project funded by the US government, said that it had recorded more killings of UN aid workers in Gaza in the previous two weeks than it had — in total — since 2002, the first year for which there is data. According to the database, at least 94 UNWRA staff have been killed over the last two decades, meaning that more than 70% of the total recorded are people who died in the last few weeks.
For comparison, a total of 116 aid workers across all conflicts and organizations were killed in all of 2022.
Juliette Touma, UNWRA's director of communications, confirmed to Insider that this war has been the worst ever for the agency's staff. Not only is it "the highest number of UN aid workers killed in any conflict globally," she said, but it has all happened "in such a short span of time."
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