1706383228 Britain stops funding for key UN aid agency for Palestinian

Britain stops funding for key UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees – The Guardian

The decision by the US, Britain and five other Western nations to freeze funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees will significantly worsen the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians have warned.

The countries announced the suspension this weekend after UNRWA, the U.N. relief agency for Palestine, announced that it was investigating 12 staff members allegedly involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack in which 1,140 people were killed.

The agency's commissioner general, Philippe Lazzarini, said in a statement on Friday that Israel had provided him with evidence that agency employees were involved.

“To protect the agency’s ability to provide humanitarian assistance, I have decided to immediately terminate the contracts of these employees and launch an investigation to immediately find out the truth,” he said.

“Any UNRWA staff involved in terrorist attacks will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.”

But Lazzarini's testimony wasn't enough to stop some of the organization's biggest donors from withdrawing their support. The British Foreign Office soon followed the US, Australia and other key allies in stopping funding the agency.

“The UK is appalled by allegations that UNRWA staff were involved in the attack on Israel on October 7, a despicable act of terrorism that the British government has repeatedly condemned,” a spokesman said. “The UK is temporarily suspending all future funding to UNRWA while we investigate the allegations. We remain committed to providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.”

Palestinians criticized the move, arguing that suspending aid could have disastrous consequences.

“Sanctioning UNRWA, which is barely keeping the entire population of Gaza alive, because of the alleged responsibility of a few employees amounts to collective punishment of the people of Gaza, who live in catastrophic humanitarian conditions,” said Johann Soufi, lawyer and former director from the agency's legal office in Gaza, Agence-France Presse said.

Founded in 1949 after the founding of Israel, UNWRA supports more than 5.6 million Palestinians in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem, as well as refugees and their descendants in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

It has struggled to raise funds in recent years, a problem dramatically exacerbated by Donald Trump's decision in 2018 to cut U.S. support. That was restored by the Biden administration, which is the agency's largest donor, providing $340 million in 2022, but the State Department said Friday it had “temporarily paused the provision of additional funding” while it processed the claims checked. Six other Western countries quickly followed suit.

UNWRA officials have not publicly commented on donor decisions. Several people contacted by the Observer did not respond to requests for comment.

UN agency head 'appalled' by allegations staff joined Hamas attacks - videoUN agency head 'appalled' by allegations staff joined Hamas attacks – video

Torrential rains over the weekend in Gaza highlighted the urgent need for humanitarian assistance, largely funded by UNWRA. Footage from makeshift camps in the south of the strip showed flimsy fabric and tarp tents collapsing in floods and mud.

Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis – the only main hospital still functioning in the strip – was reportedly completely without power overnight. The local health ministry reported that 174 people were killed and 310 injured in the past 24 hours.

Hussein al-Sheikh, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, called on donor countries to immediately reverse their decisions, which he said pose “major political and humanitarian aid risks.”

“At this special time and in view of the ongoing aggression against the Palestinian people, we need the maximum support for this international organization and must not stop its support and assistance,” he said.

The decisions were also condemned by Hamas. “It is clear that UNRWA is being blackmailed by countries that support Israeli terrorism. While the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are threatened with mass destruction – even loudly [the international court of justice]” it said in a statement, referring to the UN top court's ruling that Israel must prevent genocide in Gaza.

Israel's retaliatory war has killed 26,000 people and sparked a dire humanitarian crisis that has forced about 85% of the Strip's 2.3 million residents from their homes.

A total of 136 UN staff have been killed in Israel's nearly four-month-long offensive, and relations between UNWRA and Israel – frosty even at the best of times – have soured following an attack on a UNWRA shelter in Khan Younis last week which killed 13 people, makes people worse.

The agency said Israeli tank fire hit the building where 800 people were taking shelter. The Israeli army said the incident was being investigated and it was possible that the attack was a “result of Hamas fire.”

The crisis could also impact the UN agency's operations in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Earlier this month, the Israeli Land Authority ordered the country to vacate a site in occupied East Jerusalem and fined it for lacking building permits.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a rare statement yesterday, the Jewish holiday, that the country would take steps to remove UNWRA from the Gaza Strip after the war. “We have been warning for years: UNRWA is perpetuating the refugee issue, hindering peace and serving as the civilian wing of Hamas in Gaza,” he said.

Mairav ​​Zonszein, a senior analyst at the think tank International Crisis Group, said: “Israel has been building a case against UNRWA for a long time. Weeks ago it was said that they wanted a gradual withdrawal from Gaza.

“Regardless of the veracity of the accusation, the decision to retain this message last night appears to be an attempt to distract from the International Court of Justice ruling on the Gaza genocide.”