Monday, March 4, 2024

UN agency calls on countries to reconsider funding suspensions

The head of the main United Nations agency in Gaza, reeling from allegations members of his staff participated in Hamas attacks on Israel in early October, has called the decision by a growing list of countries to suspend funds to the agency "shocking" and urged them to reconsider it.

Commisioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) provides food and health care in shelters for more than a million people in the besieged enclave.

“Many are hungry as the clock is ticking towards a looming famine,” Lazzarini said in a statement Saturday.

“The lives of people in Gaza depend on this support and so does regional stability.”

Several countries, including the US, the UK, Germany, have announced they would temporarily pull funding from UNRWA after the agency announced it had fired employees who were allegedly involved in the October 7, 2023, Hamas attacks, Lazzarini added.

The Israeli government has not released details of the evidence concerning the alleged UNRWA involvement. Lazzarini stressed the highest investigative authority of the UN has already taken action, and an independent review by external experts is forthcoming.

Lazzarini also highlighted this week’s ruling from the International Court of Justice, which instructed Israel to enable more humanitarian assistance to prevent a genocide in Gaza.

“The only way that this can be done is through cooperation with international partners, especially UNRWA as the largest humanitarian actor in Gaza,” he continued.

The UNRWA has also shared posts highlighting its role in responding to the humanitarian situation in Gaza, as some of its largest funders have said they will withdraw or review their donations.

“UNRWA is the primary humanitarian agency in Gaza, with over 2 million people depending on it for their sheer survival,” the agency said in a social media post.

UNRWA noted it is providing shelter for about 1 million displaced people, including in its school buildings, as well as food and other assistance.

“93 percent of displaced families in southern governorates of Gaza have reported inadequate food consumption. People are desperate, hunger stalks everyone,” UNRWA added.

Hamas has also announced in an official statement released Saturday that it condemns Israel’s “threats and blackmail” against the UNRWA.

The group criticized the relief agency’s decision to fire the accused employees in Gaza and called for an “impartial investigation” into Israel’s allegations.

Hamas also slammed a claim made by Israel’s UN ambassador that the World Health Organization (WHO) is in “collusion” with the Palestinian movement, calling that a “hollow accusation”, and stressing the importance of these agencies in providing aid in the besieged enclave.

The Israel Defense Forces claimed facilities of the main United Nations relief agency in Gaza were used for “terrorist purposes”.

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