The recent action taken by the United States, United Kingdom, and other western countries to halt financial support for the United Nations’ organization for Palestinian refugees is expected to greatly exacerbate the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian officials.
The United States, Australia, and Canada were joined by Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Finland in suspending financial support for UNRWA, the United Nations’ Relief and Works Agency for Palestine. This came after UNRWA announced that an inquiry was underway regarding 12 staff members who were said to have participated in the 7 October attack led by Hamas, resulting in the deaths of 1,140 individuals.
The counterattack carried out by Israel has resulted in the deaths of 26,000 individuals and has led to a severe humanitarian emergency. Approximately 85% of the 2.3 million inhabitants of the region have been forced to leave their residences.
On Saturday, António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, urged donor countries to ensure the organization’s continued existence, according to a report by Agence France-Presse.
“I sympathize with their worries – I was personally shocked by these allegations – and I urge the governments that have stopped funding to ensure the ongoing functioning of UNRWA,” Guterres stated.
There must be consequences for the abhorrent actions allegedly committed by these staff members.
The numerous employees of UNRWA, including both men and women, who often operate in hazardous environments, should not face consequences.
Guterres stated that 12 UNRWA employees were mentioned in the allegations, which are currently being investigated by the UN. Nine of them have been terminated, one has passed away, and the identities of the remaining two are still being determined, according to Guterres.
On Saturday, Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of the agency, expressed shock at the suspension of funds and urged the countries responsible to reconsider their decision. He stated that this action jeopardizes our ongoing humanitarian efforts in the region, particularly in the Gaza Strip.
On Friday, Lazzarini stated that Israel presented evidence to UNRWA regarding the involvement of agency personnel on October 7th.
He stated that he has made the choice to promptly end the agreements with these employees and initiate an inquiry to promptly determine the truth.
“Those employed by UNRWA who engaged in acts of terrorism will face consequences, which may include criminal charges.”
However, Lazzarini’s comment was insufficient in convincing certain key donors to continue their support. The UK Foreign Office also joined the US, Australia, and other major allies in halting its financial contributions to the agency.
The UK government has expressed shock at accusations that employees of UNRWA played a part in the attack on Israel on October 7th, which was a despicable act of terrorism. The UK has consistently denounced this act and is currently suspending any future financial support to UNRWA as we investigate these troubling allegations. However, we are still dedicated to providing humanitarian aid to the people in Gaza.
Criticism from Palestinians and aid workers followed the decision, with concerns raised about the potentially disastrous effects of halting aid.
According to Johann Soufi, a lawyer and former director of UNRWA’s legal office in Gaza, punishing the agency for the actions of a few employees would unfairly harm the entire population of Gaza. This is because UNRWA plays a crucial role in sustaining the lives of Gaza’s inhabitants, who are currently facing dire humanitarian circumstances.
In 1949, following the establishment of Israel, UNRWA was created to assist over 5.6 million Palestinians in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem, as well as refugees and their offspring residing in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.
In recent years, the agency has faced difficulties in securing funding, which was made worse by Donald Trump’s decision in 2018 to reduce US support. However, the Biden administration, being the largest donor, has restored $340 million in funding for 2022. Despite this, the state department announced on Friday that it has temporarily halted additional funding while reviewing allegations. Other western countries have also taken similar actions.
The heavy rainfall in Gaza this past weekend has highlighted the urgent need for humanitarian assistance, most of which is provided by UNRWA. Videos from temporary camps in the southern part of the area depicted weakly constructed tents made of cloth and tarpaulin being destroyed by the flooding and mud.
The biggest hospital currently in operation in Khan Yunis, known as Nasser hospital, was apparently without any electricity overnight. According to the local health ministry, there were 174 fatalities and 310 injuries reported within the last day.
Hussein al-Sheikh, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, has urged donor nations to promptly reverse their choices, which he believes pose significant political and humanitarian risks.
“In light of the ongoing aggression against the Palestinian people, it is crucial to provide maximum support for this international organization and refrain from halting any aid or assistance,” he stated.
Hamas has criticized the decision to halt funding for UNRWA, accusing certain countries of using it as leverage to support Israeli terrorism. The statement also referenced the international court’s ruling that Israel is responsible for preventing genocide in Gaza, where Palestinians are currently at risk of mass extermination.
Over the course of the past four months, 136 individuals employed by the United Nations have lost their lives during Israel’s ongoing military campaign. Tensions between UNRWA and Israel, which were already strained, have worsened following an airstrike on an UNRWA shelter in Khan Younis that resulted in the deaths of 13 individuals last week.
The organization reported that a building housing 800 individuals seeking shelter was hit by Israeli tank fire. The Israeli military stated that they are investigating the incident and believe it may have been caused by Hamas firing.
The current situation may have consequences for the UN agency’s activities in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Recently, it was informed by the Israel Land Authority that it must leave a property in occupied East Jerusalem and was penalized for not having proper construction permits.
The foreign minister of Israel, Israel Katz, made an uncommon announcement on the Jewish holy day, stating that the nation plans to eliminate UNRWA from the Gaza Strip following the war. Katz stated, “We have been cautioning for years: UNRWA perpetuates the refugee problem, hinders peace, and acts as a civilian branch of Hamas in Gaza.”
Mairav Zonszein, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank, stated on X (formerly known as Twitter), “Israel has been presenting arguments against UNRWA for quite some time. It announced weeks ago its intention to gradually remove it from Gaza.”
“Despite the accuracy of the accusation, the choice to release this news last night appears to be an effort to divert attention from the ICJ’s decision on the genocide in Gaza.”
With Agence France-Presse