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Business News/ News / World/  Nine countries halt funding UN agency in Gaza, Israel says ‘UNRWA must be replaced’
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Nine countries halt funding UN agency in Gaza, Israel says ‘UNRWA must be replaced’

UNRWA commissioner-general Philippe Lazzarini expresses concern over suspension of funds and termination of employee contracts.

(FILES) Commissioner general of UNRWA Philippe Lazzarini speaks during an international humanitary conference for civilians in Gaza, at the Elysee Presidential Palace, in Paris, on November 9, 2023. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees slammed on January 27, 2024 the 'shocking' suspension of funding by several donor countries following Israeli accusations that several UNRWA employees were involved in Hamas's October 7 attack. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP) (AFP)Premium
(FILES) Commissioner general of UNRWA Philippe Lazzarini speaks during an international humanitary conference for civilians in Gaza, at the Elysee Presidential Palace, in Paris, on November 9, 2023. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees slammed on January 27, 2024 the 'shocking' suspension of funding by several donor countries following Israeli accusations that several UNRWA employees were involved in Hamas's October 7 attack. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP) (AFP)

Six European nations—Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Finland on Saturday suspended funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
This decision follows accusations that some UNRWA staff were implicated in the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

As reported by Reuters, the move follows similar actions taken by the United States, Australia, and Canada, impacting funding for the aid agency crucial for supporting individuals in Gaza, as these allegations were raised by Israel.

"Palestinians in Gaza did not need this additional collective punishment," Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA commissioner-general, said on X. “This stains all of us."
Also Read: Britain, Italy, Finland pause UN refugee agency funding amid Gaza war post Hamas attack allegations

The agency said on Friday it had opened an investigation into several employees and severed ties with those people.

Encouraging more donor suspensions, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said UNRWA should be replaced once fighting in the enclave dies down and accused it of ties to Islamist militants in Gaza.

"In Gaza's rebuilding, @UNRWA must be replaced with agencies dedicated to genuine peace and development," he added on X.

Deputy U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq, asked about Katz's remarks, said, “We are not responding to rhetoric. UNRWA overall had had a strong record, which we have repeatedly underscored."

Lazzarini expressed concern that the choice made by the nine nations jeopardized the humanitarian efforts of the organization throughout the region, with a particular impact on its work in Gaza.

Also Read: Israel vows to stop UN agency activities in Gaza; blames it for Hamas attack

“It is shocking to see a suspension of funds to the Agency in reaction to allegations against a small group of staff, especially given the immediate action that UNRWA took by terminating their contracts and asking for a transparent independent investigation," he said in a statement.

Reuters reported that the Palestinian foreign ministry criticised what it characterized as an Israeli campaign against UNRWA, while Hamas condemned the termination of employee contracts, “based on information derived from the Zionist enemy".

Agency's role in Gaza aid

UNRWA was established to assist refugees displaced during the 1948 war at the founding of Israel. The agency provides education, health, and aid services to Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. It plays a crucial role in supporting approximately two-thirds of Gaza's 2.3 million population and has been instrumental in providing aid during the conflict initiated by Israel to eliminate Hamas following the October 7 attacks.

In his announcement of the investigation on Friday, Lazzarini stated that he had opted to end the contracts of certain personnel as a measure to safeguard the agency's capacity to provide humanitarian aid.

Also Read: ‘Displaced people were injured…’, Palestinian Red Crescent accuses Israel of hospital attack in southern Gaza

Furthermore, Lazzarini did not disclose the number of employees allegedly involved in the attacks, nor the nature of their alleged involvement. He said, however, that “any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror" would be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.

Throughout weeks of Israeli airstrikes on the Palestinian enclave, UNRWA has consistently emphasized that its ability to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people in Gaza is on the brink of collapse.

Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Palestinians' umbrella political body the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said cutting support to the agency brought major political and relief risks.

“We call on countries that announced the cessation of their support for UNRWA to immediately reverse their decision," he said on X.

Also Read: A brief history of Gaza's 75 years of woe

Germany's Foreign Ministry, a significant contributor to UNRWA, expressed approval for the organization's inquiry, stating its profound unease regarding the accusations leveled against personnel within the agency.

"We expect Lazzarini to make it clear within UNRWA's workforce that all forms of hatred and violence are totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated," it said on X.

(With inputs from Reuters)

 

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Published: 28 Jan 2024, 07:32 AM IST
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