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Amnesty International urges donors to reverse decision to halt funding for UNRWA

January 30, 2024 at 2:02 pm

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) distribute flour to Palestinian families fled their homes and took refuge in UNRWA schools as Israeli attacks continue in Rafah, Gaza on November 21, 2023. [Abed Rahim Khatib – Anadolu Agency]

Amnesty International has urged donor countries to reverse their decision to suspend funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) following Israeli allegations, describing it “inhumane” and a “devastating blow” to more than 2 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Anadolu Agency reports.

The London-based rights group, in a statement issued late Monday, emphasised a dozen donor countries that have suspended funding to UNRWA, urging them to reverse their decisions and refrain from cutting off funding to the UN agency that provides humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees.

“It is deeply shocking – indeed inhumane – that several governments have taken decisions that will cause further suffering to two million Palestinians, who are already facing the risk of genocide and an engineered famine just days after the International Court of Justice ruling concluded that the survival of Palestinians in Gaza is at risk,” said Agnes Callamard, the rights group’s Secretary-General.

She stressed that it is “particularly appalling” that such action has been taken over allegations involving only 12 employees out of UNRWA’s total staff of 30,000.

READ: UNRWA: Bond UK urges government to continue funding for Palestinian refugees

Following Tel Aviv’s recent allegations that some UNRWA staffers were involved in the Palestinian group Hamas’s cross-border attack on Israel on 7 October, the UN agency said it terminated contracts with several employees.

Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Canada, Finland, Australia, the UK, Netherlands, the US, France, Austria, and Japan have suspended funding for UNRWA, which was established in 1949 to help Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.

Norway, Spain, Ireland, Denmark, and Belgium announced that they will not suspend funding.

Israel’s allegations of some UNRWA staffers’ involvement in the 7 October attacks are “serious and must be independently investigated,” Callamard said, noting that the alleged actions of a few individuals “must not be used as a pretext” for cutting off life-saving assistance, which could amount to collective punishment.

“It is disgraceful that instead of heeding the ICJ’s ruling, and the Court’s finding that the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is at serious risk of deteriorating further, key states, including the United States, Canada, the UK, Germany, Australia, and France have cut off funding to the main provider of aid for civilians in Gaza,” she said.

Israel has repeatedly equated UNRWA staff with Hamas members in efforts to discredit them, providing no proof of the claims, while lobbying hard to have UNRWA closed as it is the only UN agency to have a specific mandate to look after the basic needs of Palestinian refugees. If the agency no longer exists, argues Israel, then the refugee issue must no longer exist, and the legitimate right for Palestinian refugees to return to their land will be unnecessary. Israel has denied that right of return since the late 1940s, even though its own membership of the UN was made conditional upon Palestinian refugees being allowed to return to their homes and land.

Israel launched a deadly offensive on the Gaza Strip following a cross-border attack by Hamas on Oct. 7, killing at least 26,751 Palestinians and injuring 65,636. Nearly 1,200 Israelis are believed to have been killed in the Hamas attack.

However, since then, it has been revealed by Haaretz that helicopters and tanks of the Israeli army had, in fact, killed many of the 1,139 soldiers and civilians claimed by Israel to have been killed by the Palestinian Resistance.

The Israeli offensive has left 85 per cent of Gaza’s population internally displaced amid acute shortages of food, clean water and medicine, while 60 per cent of the enclave’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to the UN.

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