The United Nations has urged those countries that have paused funding for its Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, to reverse their decision, warning that aid for some two million people in the besieged Gaza Strip is at stake.
‘… I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations,’ UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA’s commissioner general, also urged those countries to ‘reconsider their decisions before UNRWA is forced to suspend its humanitarian response.’
At least nine countries, including the United States and some of its allies, have paused their funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, citing allegations by the Israeli regime that some of its employees were involved in the Palestinians’ anti-occupation operation on October 7th, 2023, dubbed Operation Al-Aqsa Storm.
The decision came amid the genocidal war that the Israeli regime has been waging against Gaza since that operation was staged.
The regime’s war of aggression has so far killed more than 26,400 Palestinians, mostly women and children, with over 65,000 others injured.
Since the onset of the war, most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have become more reliant on the aid that UNRWA provides, including about one million who have been displaced by the Israeli bombardments.
‘Donors, do not starve children,’ said Jan Egeland, the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, while Michael Fakhri, a UN-appointed expert on the right to food, warned that the funding cuts mean that famine is now ‘inevitable’ in Gaza.
‘We used to say Israel was launching a war of famine against us in parallel to its war of destruction. Now, those countries who suspended the aid to UNRWA have declared themselves partners in this war and collective punishment,’ Yamen Hamad, who lives at an UNRWA-run school in Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza Strip, said.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said he was surprised by the move to pause UNRWA funding, as it would only lead to more suffering for Palestinians.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry has also urged countries that have paused funding for UNRWA to reconsider their move.
On Sunday, Iran condemned Israel’s allegations against UNRWA’s employees as yet another ‘malicious’ move and part of the regime’s ‘inhumane’ treatment of Palestinians.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kan’ani said Israel has levelled the allegations to justify its restrictions on humanitarian organisations active in besieged Gaza and the occupied West Bank.
Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories, said those governments cutting funds to UNRWA are most likely violating their obligations under the UN Genocide Convention.
She also highlighted the timing of the defunding, which came one day after the International Court of Justice’s conclusion that Israel was plausibly committing genocide in Gaza.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kan’ani also said on Sunday that Israel’s allegations are a cover ‘to help it get away with the unprecedented and heinous crime of killing at least 150 members of international institutions, such as UNRWA, since early October.’
The Iranian official also condemned the move by Western countries to cut UNRWA immediately following the Israeli allegations.
‘Such a behaviour practically means accepting the claims of a criminal regime, which, according to a ruling issued by the International Court of Justice, stands accused of genocide of the Palestinians and must be held accountable before this court and the world’s public opinion,’ Kan’ani stated.
He said pressuring UNRWA and restricting its activities or preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people who are suffering from a devastating war and are facing the threat of genocide indicates nothing but the declaration of trust in a war criminal.
Instead of announcing their decision to suspend funding for UNRWA, those countries had better halt their military and diplomatic assistance to Israel, he said.
‘Iran calls on all freedom-seeking nations, particularly the Muslim countries, to resist Israel and make every effort to support the Palestinians,’ Kan’ani said.
UNRWA itself has condemned the cutting off of the aid ‘lifeline’ to two million Gazans as a ‘collective punishment’.
The United States announced on Friday that it was halting funding to UNRWA because of the Israeli allegations against the agency’s 12 employees.
Canada and Australia followed suit and announced a similar funding pause to UNRWA, which is a critical source of support for people in Gaza.
On Saturday, Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Scotland, and Finland joined the US in pausing the funding.
Ireland and Norway, however, expressed continued support for UNRWA, saying the agency does crucial work to help the displaced Palestinians in Gaza.
Israel made the allegations on the same day the International Court of Justice issued an interim ruling on the emergency measures requested by South Africa in connection with the regime’s war on Gaza.
In its ruling, the ICJ ordered Israel to take all measures within its power to prevent genocide in Gaza, saying the regime must ensure its forces do not commit genocide and also ensure the preservation of evidence of alleged genocide.
In a post on his X account on Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian hailed the ICJ ruling and reiterated Iran’s support for South Africa’s initiative.
Even though it stopped short of calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, the much-anticipated interim ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) last Friday ordered the Israeli regime to prevent all acts that constitute genocide.
Israel must ‘take all measures possible to prevent acts under Article II of the 1948 Genocide Convention in relation to Palestinians in Gaza,’ which includes killings and inflicting physical or material harm, stated the ruling.
The Tel Aviv regime, it further noted, must ensure its military does not carry out any of the above actions and must prevent and punish ‘the direct and public incitement to commit genocide’ against Palestinians in Gaza.’
But just days after the ruling was announced by the top UN court based in The Hague, the genocidal war perpetuated by Israel on Gaza continues and Palestinians continue to be killed in cold blood and through deliberate starvation.
So far, according to the Gaza health ministry, 26,257 people have been killed and at least 64,797 others wounded, most of them children and women. Many more remain trapped under the rubble, unaccounted for.
In the last 24 hours alone, Israeli regime forces reportedly killed at least 174 Palestinians and injured 310 others in the besieged coastal strip that has been rendered ‘uninhabitable’, according to the United Nations.
In just 24 hours over the weekend, attacks were reported in al-Bureij, Khan Younis, al-Maghazi, Shuja’iyya, al-Masdar, Beit Lahia, and east of Rafah.
The news agency Wafa reported devastating strikes targeting residential houses and makeshift tents where internally displaced people have been sheltering in the heavily crowded Rafah, as well as Khan Younis.
The report said several dead bodies and wounded were brought to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital following intense Israeli airstrikes targeting several homes in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society also reported that Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis city remained under the siege by Israeli forces on Saturday, with many dead bodies brought there.
‘For the third day in a row, Al-Amal Hospital suffers from repeated and numerous attacks and a siege after the occupation forces entered the surrounding areas, which hampers the work of ambulances and relief teams and puts them at high risk,’ the report stated.
‘The Internally Displaced people also face the risk of direct targeting by the occupation forces and the drones which are deployed densely in the skies of Khan Yunis Governorate.’
On Friday, hours after the ICJ ruling came in, the Euro-Med human rights group reported the killing of two young brothers by Israeli snipers as they tried to evacuate to the All-Amal Hospital.
‘Euro-Med Monitor documented the arbitrary execution and horrific premeditated murder of two brothers – one of whom was a child – by an Israeli sniper in front of their parents and other family members,’ the rights group said in a report.
‘The brothers were shot as they were preparing to be forcibly removed from their home in the neighbourhood of Al-Amal, located in the west of Khan Yunis, which witnessed several other Israeli massacres and crimes.’
The long-awaited ruling by the ICJ against Israel underlines the growing isolation of the regime while also highlighting the limitations of the authority of UN organs.
Nahed Barbakh, 14, was holding a white flag when he was shot by Israeli snipers at least three times, and killed. Ramez, 20, was shot in the head as he tried to rescue his younger brother.
On the same day, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) denounced the Israeli regime for pushing 85 per cent of the Gaza population into a tiny area and bombing them there.
‘I have very grave concerns that these chaotic and mass evacuation orders are ineffective in ensuring the safety of Palestinian civilians, instead placing them in increasingly vulnerable, dangerous, situations,’ Ajith Sunghay, OHCHR’s director in the occupied Palestinian territories, said.