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UN says Israel will not renew visa for top aid official

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -Israel has told the United Nations it will not renew a visa for the top U.N. humanitarian aid official for the Palestinian Gaza Strip and West Bank, a U.N. spokesperson said on Friday.

Canadian-born Lynn Hastings, a veteran U.N. official, has served as the deputy special coordinator for the Middle East peace process and U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory for nearly three years.

"We've been informed by the Israeli authorities that they would not renew the visa of Ms Hastings past the due date at some point later this month," U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

He said U.N. staff do not overstay their visas in any country, but stressed that U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has full confidence in Hastings. Dujarric did not say whether Hastings would be replaced.

A spokesperson for Israel's Foreign Ministry accused the United Nations of being biased and described as "disgraceful" the U.N. response to an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants that Israel says killed 1,200 people.

"That's why Israel decided to check on - one by one - the visas that are issued to representatives of the U.N.," the spokesperson said.

At the end of October, Israel's Foreign Ministry accused Hastings - in a social media post - of failing to be impartial and objective, which the United Nations rejected.

"You've seen some very public attacks on Twitter against her which were utterly unacceptable," Dujarric said. "Personal direct attacks on U.N. personnel anywhere around the world is unacceptable and puts people's lives at risks."

Guterres on Wednesday warned the U.N. Security Council that the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas, was in the midst of an "epic humanitarian catastrophe."

Since the Oct. 7 attack, Israel has focused its retaliation against Hamas in Gaza, bombarding it from the air, imposing a siege and launching a ground assault.

More than 15,000 people are confirmed killed, some 40% of them under the age of 18, according to Palestinian health authorities deemed reliable by the United Nations. Many others are feared buried under the ruins.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Editing by William Maclean, Kirsten Donovan)