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Australia reinstates support for UNRWA and commits additional aid to Gaza

March 15, 2024 at 4:10 pm

A view of destruction at UNRWA headquarters, which provides aid to millions of Palestinians and works under the United Nations, is targeted by Israel in Gaza City, Gaza on February 11, 2024. [Karam Hassan – Anadolu Agency]

Australia has announced its intention to reinstate funding to a UN agency that provides humanitarian aid to Palestinians, reversing a previous loss of funding triggered by so-far unfounded allegations by Tel Aviv that some of its employees were involved in the 7 October attack on Israel.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong stated today that the country would resume funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), rejecting Israel’s claims that 12 agency members had been involved in the attacks in southern Israel.

Moreover, the Australian government committed to boosting assistance for the embattled Gaza Strip, with Foreign Minister Penny Wong expressing deep concern over the worsening humanitarian conditions in the enclave.

“The best available current advice from agencies and the Australian government lawyers is that UNRWA is not a terrorist organisation,” Wong told reporters in Adelaide while she announced a new aid package.

READ: UNRWA aid worker killed in Israeli strike on food warehouse in Rafah

She added: “We have been working with a group of donor countries and with UNRWA on the shared objective of ensuring the integrity of UNRWA’s operations, rebuilding confidence, and so importantly, ensuring aid flows to Gazans in desperate need.”

In addition to restoring $6 million in withheld funding for UNRWA, Australia has committed an extra $2.6 million to UNICEF, the UN’s agency dedicated to children’s welfare, to deliver urgent services in Gaza.

Furthermore, Australia will dispatch a C-17 Globemaster aircraft to transport defence force parachutes, facilitating the airdrop of essential humanitarian supplies to the enclave’s distressed population.

Such deliveries have faced criticism for their inefficiency and high costs, prompting humanitarian organisations to urge Israel to cease obstructing land-based aid deliveries.

The move to resume funding comes after Canada, Sweden and the European Union, had also reinstated support for UNRWA. Approximately 15 countries had suspended funding during investigations into Israeli allegations, resulting in a $450 million reduction in UNRWA’s resources and pushing it to the brink of collapse.

In response, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini expressed gratitude to Australia for joining the ranks of countries restoring funding to the agency, which he said employs around 13,000 individuals in Gaza, and serves as the primary provider of essential goods and services such as food, water and shelter in the region.

Hunger has spread all across the Gaza Strip amid a deadly Israeli offensive on the enclave, UNRWA announced last week.

Israel has also imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza, leaving its population, particularly residents in the north, on the verge of starvation.

The Israeli war has pushed 85 per cent of Gaza’s population into internal displacement amid a crippling blockade of most food, clean water and medicine, while 60 per cent of the enclave’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to the UN.

Israel stands accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). An interim ruling in January ordered Tel Aviv to stop genocidal acts and take measures to guarantee that humanitarian assistance is provided to civilians in Gaza.

READ: US pause on funding UNRWA may become permanent