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UNRWA chief should be able to visit operations in Gaza, US State Dept says

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike on a house in Rafah

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.N. Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) head Philippe Lazzarini and U.N. staff should be able to visit the agency's fields of operation, including in Gaza, State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters on Tuesday.

Patel said he could not comment on why Lazzarini was denied entry, after UNRWA and Egypt said Israel had denied the head of the refugee agency entry to the Gaza Strip on Monday.

"Our belief is that they should be able to visit UNRWA’s fields of operation, including in Gaza," Patel said at a regular press briefing in Washington.

"And we're going to continue to work with the government of Israel to rapidly approve all requested visas for U.N. and NGO workers in an expeditious fashion."

Patel said the free movement of international workers is a key part of the humanitarian response in Gaza, where the population is on the verge of famine after Israel launched a military operation in response to deadly attacks by Hamas militants.

Washington, UNRWA's biggest donor, has paused its funding to the agency since January after Israel accused 12 of the agency's 13,000 employees in Gaza of participating in the Oct. 7 attacks, but insists the aid group's humanitarian work is indispensable.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis, Ismail Shakil and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by David Gregorio)