COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT – the decision to suspend Palestinian aid

More than 50 per cent of Palestinians in Gaza are on the brink of famine

The decision to suspend aid to the UN Palestinian refugee agency by several Western countries is a ‘collective punishment’, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said yesterday.

Last Friday’s suspension by the United States of funding of UNRWA has been followed by Britain, Germany, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland and Italy.

The announcement was made amid Israeli claims that 12 UNRWA operatives were involved in the Hamas operation to break the siege of Gaza on 7th October.

On Sunday, the French foreign ministry announced that Paris has not planned any new payments to support UNRWA for the first quarter of this year.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the 27-member bloc will ‘assess further steps and draw lessons based on the result of the full and comprehensive investigation’.

Lazzarini said he is shocked such decisions were taken as ‘famine looms’ in Gaza, which has been devastated by nearly four months of relentless Israeli bombardment that has killed more than 26,000 people.

The agency, with its 13,000 employees in Gaza, is the main organisation aiding Gaza’s population amid the humanitarian disaster.

More than two million of the besieged enclave’s 2.3 million people depend on the UNRWA for ‘sheer survival’, including food and shelter, Lazzarini said, warning this lifeline can ‘collapse any time now’.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres joined Lazzarini’s call on Sunday, pleading for donor states to continue supporting the UN agency that runs aid operations in Gaza, insisting: ‘The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met’.

Top Palestinian officials and Hamas have criticised the decision which they said ‘entails great political and humanitarian relief risks’.

‘At this particular time and in light of the continuing aggression against the Palestinian people, we need the maximum support for this international organisation and not stopping support and assistance to it,’ Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Secretary-General Hussein al-Sheikh wrote on X, urging the countries to ‘immediately reverse their decision’.

Chris Gunness, a former UNRWA spokesman, said there is a ‘coordinated political attack’ on the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees.

‘The Israelis have said they cannot win the war on Gaza unless UNRWA is disbanded. So what clearer signal do you want?’ he said.

Gunness said the UN agency only has weeks before it runs out of money for its crucial aid work to save Palestinian lives in Gaza.

‘My message to the Arab world, particularly to the Gulf, is where are you? Because they’re making billions each day on oil revenues. A tiny fraction of those oil revenues would see UNRWA’s financial problems disappear overnight.

‘This unconscionable gap inflicted by these Western countries would be filled very quickly. Some of the most desperate people in the Middle East are now facing starvation, they’re facing famine, and the Arab states need to step up to the plate.’

Ireland and Norway have said they will continue to fund the agency.