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More than a dozen UNRWA employees suspected of involvement in the Hamas attack on Israel. Countries are suspending funding for UN agencies, and calls are being made to reconsider the decision

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday called on countries suspending funding to the UN Palestine Refugee Agency (UNRWA) to reconsider their decisions. Similar calls are also coming from other places. – Donors, do not starve children for the sins of a few aid workers, said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. So far, 10 countries have withheld the money due to reports that a dozen or so UNRWA employees were involved in the Hamas attack on Israel.

Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, announced on Friday that he had received information from Israel about the involvement of UNRWA employees in the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7, 2023, and announced the initiation of an investigation. in this case. Lazzarini emphasized that “these shocking accusations come at a time when the survival of more than two million people in the Gaza Strip depends on the aid that the Agency has been providing since the beginning of the war.”

Israel has not yet made public information about the charges against employees of the UN agency.

Palestinians in front of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNRWA) school in Rafah, Gaza StripPAP/EPA/HAITHAM IMAD

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Guterres “strongly appeals”

As a result of these reports, several countries including United States and Germany, withdrew their funding to the Agency. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to these countries to reconsider this decision.

“While I understand their concerns – I have been horrified by these accusations myself – I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to at least guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations,” Guterres said. He also assured that “any UN employee involved in acts of terrorism” would be held accountable.

He said this could include criminal prosecution. However, according to Reuters, this is a rare move because most of the organization’s employees enjoy functional immunity, although Guterres has the right to waive it.

He also stressed that “tens of thousands of people working for UNRWA, many of whom put themselves at risk, should not be punished.” The UN Secretary-General said that of the 12 UNRWA staff involved in the “appalling alleged acts”, nine have already been dismissed, one has been confirmed dead and the identities of the remaining two are under investigation.

“Don’t starve your children for the sins of a few workers”

UNRWA employs 13,000 people in the Gaza Strip and has 300 buildings housing schools, kindergartens, clinics and hospitals. Humanitarian aid is distributed there. Guterres said that 87% of people use UNRWA services. population of the Gaza Strip. If funding is not restored, UNRWA’s activities must be curtailed in February, warned the Secretary-General.

The Agency’s Commissioner General, Philippe Lazzarini, also called on countries to “reconsider their decisions before UNRWA is forced to suspend its humanitarian aid.”

A Palestinian woman and her child stand next to a destroyed house in Rafah, southern Gaza (January 28, 2024)PAP/EPA/HAITHAM IMAD

There are also other appeals in a similar tone. In a statement on Sunday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said the country was “concerned” by the decision to suspend the transfer of funds and called for it to be reconsidered. It said it “mainly harms” Palestinian civilians. “UNRWA meets the needs of millions” of Palestinians, the ministry emphasized, adding that the UN agency operates “in very difficult conditions.”

– Donors, do not starve children for the sins of a few aid workers, said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. UN-appointed expert on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, has warned that funding cuts mean famine in Gaza is now “inevitable”.

Palestinians ration flour from the UN Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA)PAP/EPA/HAITHAM IMAD

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said he was “surprised” by the decisions to suspend funding. – Is this action related to the policy of collective punishment applied to the civilian population in Gaza? – he asked at the conference.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of waging a campaign against the UN agency.

Who stopped funding for the Agency

By Sunday afternoon, 10 countries, including: France, Great BritainGermany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, the United States, Australia and Canada – decided to suspend funding for the Agency, which plays a key role in providing aid to the people of the Gaza Strip.

“The United States is extremely concerned by allegations that 12 UNRWA employees may have been involved in the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel. The Department of State has temporarily withheld additional funding to UNRWA while it reviews these allegations and the steps the United Nations is taking to address them.” respond,” said the head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken in a statement issued on Friday.

When information about subsequent countries deciding to cut off the money began to flow from Friday, on Saturday the head of the Agency expressed “shocking” at these decisions.

Meanwhile, Norway and Ireland have stated that they will continue to fund the Agency.

Israel critically about UNRWA

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Saturday called for the immediate dismissal of UNRWA’s leadership. He assessed that an investigation should be launched immediately into everything that happened in the Gaza Strip in the context of UNRWA’s assistance to Hamas.

Katz wrote on Platform X that once fighting in Gaza ends and reconstruction begins, UNRWA should be replaced “by an agency committed to true peace.”

UN spokesman Farhan Haq declined to respond to Katz’s statement. – We do not respond to (such – ed.) rhetoric. UNRWA in general has very good achievements, which we have repeatedly emphasized, he said.

What is UNRWA?

For a long time, UNRWA has been sending alarming messages that its ability to deliver aid in the Gaza Strip is running out. In 2022, the Agency’s largest sponsors were the United States, Germany, European Union and Sweden.

UNRWA is a UN agency established in 1949 to assist Palestinian refugees residing in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the Palestinian Authority. It is the only UN agency in history created to deal exclusively with a single group of refugees, coming from one region of the world and one conflict.

All other refugees who have fled their homes due to all other conflicts that have been going on for 78 years on all continents are dealt with by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

UNRWA is one of the largest employers in the Gaza Strip, running, among others, network of schools and other centers. She has long been accused by Israel of being sympathetic to Hamas. Israel alleged that terrorist tunnels were being built under the agency’s schools and that teachers were taking part in anti-Israeli indoctrination of Palestinian children. Administration so far Joe Biden she did not react to this criticism.

The UN agency’s facilities have been attacked by Israel many times during the current military operation. More than 100 UNRWA employees died as a result of these attacks.

Main photo source: PAP/EPA/HAITHAM IMAD

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