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Russia urges to investigate Israel's UNRWA accusations before inflicting 'collective punishment'

January 30, 2024 at 8:57 pm

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends a United Nations Security Council meeting on Ukraine at the Security Council Chamber at the UN Headquarters, New York, United States on January 22, 2024 [Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout/Anadolu Agency]

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, urged to investigate Israel’s accusations that some staffers of the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) collaborated with Hamas in the 7 October attacks before suspending funds for the humanitarian organisation, Anadolu Agency reports.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow following a meeting with his Gambian counterpart, Mamadou Tangara, Lavrov said what is happening in Gaza, where Israeli attacks have killed more than 26,000 people, is a “collective punishment prohibited by the international humanitarian law”.

“If there are such accusations, we have to clear them out. From the very beginning, we condemned the terrorist attack on 7 October and clearly said that it is necessary to fight terrorism in any of its manifestations with means that do not violate international humanitarian law. What has happened and is happening (in Gaza) is collective punishment, it is prohibited under international humanitarian law,” he stressed.

Lavrov said if an investigation is conducted, the facts will be known about whether Israel’s allegations have any grounds.

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.

“But if the investigation is being cancelled and, instead, there will be a collective punishment of the UNRWA and those, to whom it provided assistance, than I believe that this is a wrong decision. I hope, that the UN management will raise these questions in contacts with Israeli representatives,” he emphasised.

Several countries including the US, UK, Germany, France, Austria and Japan have suspended funds for the Agency established in 1949 to cater to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

It is involved in primary and vocational education, primary healthcare, relief and social services, infrastructure and camp improvement and emergency response.

The UN Agency says it has opened an investigation into the allegations, and has severed ties with those staff members.

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