The Director-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said that the decision to suspend aid from several Western countries to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees is “collective punishment,” while United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres joined him in urging donor countries to stop aid. Preserving the aid Gaza desperately needs.
UNRWA Director-General Philippe Lazzarini said he was shocked that such decisions were taken while famine looms in Gaza, which has been devastated by nearly four months of continuous Israeli bombing that has killed more than 26,000 people.
The agency, which has a staff of 13,000 in Gaza, is the main organization helping Gazans amid the humanitarian catastrophe. More than two million of the besieged enclave's 2.3 million people depend on UNRWA for “survival,” including food and shelter, Lazzarini said, warning that this lifeline could “collapse any time now.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also joined Lazzarini's call on Sunday, appealing to donor countries to continue supporting the UN agency running relief operations in Gaza. “The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met.”
Guterres said that UN staff involved in acts of “terrorism” would be held accountable, but added that “the tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA, many of whom are in some of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be punished.” “.
About 1,100 people, most of them civilians, were killed following the Hamas attack and about 240 were taken prisoner.
Nine UNRWA staff members have been terminated
Nine out of 12 UNRWA employees accused of involvement in the October 7 Hamas attack inside Israel have been dismissed, according to the UN Secretary-General. He added that the death of one of them has been confirmed, and the identity of the other two is now being determined.
“The Secretariat is prepared to cooperate with a competent authority capable of prosecuting individuals in line with the Secretariat’s normal procedures for such cooperation.”
The United Nations said on Friday that it was investigating a number of agency employees regarding the allegations.
But Israel continued to attack the UN agency, with Foreign Minister Israel Katz calling for Lazzarini's resignation on Saturday.
Senior Palestinian officials and Hamas criticized the decision, which they said “involves great political and humanitarian risks.”
The Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hussein Al-Sheikh, wrote: “At this particular time and in light of the ongoing aggression against the Palestinian people, we need the utmost support for this international organization and not to stop support and assistance to it.” Regarding X, he urged countries to “immediately reverse their decision.”
Chris Gunness, a former spokesman for UNRWA, says there is a “coordinated political attack” on the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.
The Israelis have said they cannot win the war on Gaza unless UNRWA is disbanded. So what's the clearest signal you want? He told Al Jazeera.
UNRWA's life-saving assistance is about to end following countries' decisions to cut their funding to the agency.
Our humanitarian operation, which two million people depend on as the lifeblood of Gaza, is collapsing. I am shocked that such decisions are being made based on someone's alleged behavior.
— Philippe Lazzarini (@UNLazzarini) January 27, 2024
Western countries suspend aid
The United States, which said 12 employees at the agency were under investigation, immediately suspended funding, and several other countries followed suit, including Britain, Germany, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland and Italy.
French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sunday Announce Paris did not plan to provide any new payments to support UNRWA in the first quarter of this year, and will decide when the time comes what action should be taken in cooperation with the United Nations and its other major donors.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stressed that the 27-member bloc “will evaluate further steps and draw lessons based on the outcome of the full and comprehensive investigation.”
“While I understand their concerns – I am horrified by these accusations – I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to, at the very least, ensure the continuity of UNRWA operations,” Guterres said.
Meanwhile, there are reports that US negotiators are making progress on a potential agreement under which Israel would halt military operations against Hamas for two months in exchange for the release of more than 100 prisoners. Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the reports.
CIA Director Bill Burns is expected to meet with Israeli Mossad intelligence service David Barnea, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani, and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel in France on Sunday for talks focused on captive negotiations.
Many are suffering from hunger as the hour of famine looms on the horizon. @UNRWA It runs shelters for more than a million people and provides food and primary health care even at the height of hostilities. https://t.co/lPEdNQtq8H
– UNRWA (@UNRWA) January 27, 2024
The humanitarian situation in Gaza is tragic, after Israeli attacks destroyed vast areas of the Palestinian enclave and displaced approximately 85 percent of the Strip's population.
The few health institutions in the enclave operate at low capacity, and UNRWA institutions, most of which are schools, have been widely used as shelters by displaced people.
Gunness, the former director of UNRWA, said the UN agency has only weeks before it runs out of funds allocated for its crucial aid work to save the lives of Palestinians in Gaza.
He added: “My message to the Arab world, especially to the Gulf: Where are you? Because they earn billions every day from oil revenues. A small portion of those oil revenues would make UNRWA's financial problems disappear overnight. “This unconscionable gap created by these Western countries will be closed very quickly,” Gunness told Al Jazeera.
“Some of the most desperate people in the Middle East are now facing famine, facing famine, and Arab countries must step up to the plate.”
Meanwhile, Israel continued to bomb the central and southern parts of Khan Yunis, with the Gaza Ministry of Health reporting 174 Palestinian deaths in the past 24 hours.
Nasser Hospital, the largest healthcare facility in the southern Gaza Strip, has been under Israeli siege for the past five days and is on the verge of collapse. Doctors at the hospital warned that he would not be able to work for much longer due to a lack of supplies.
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