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US to block UNRWA funding until March 2025

March 20, 2024 at 2:19 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 11 February, 2024 [Karam Hassan – Anadolu Agency]

A deal between US congressional leaders and the White House concerning a substantial bill earmarking funds for the military, State Department and other government programmes will keep the US from donating to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) until March 2025.

According to two sources familiar with the agreement, funding will remain blocked for one year, with discussions on alternative approaches to provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza set to occur after the legislation is disclosed publicly, Reuters has reported.

Moreover, the US Senate last month passed legislation withholding funding for the agency as part of a $95 billion bill aimed at sending aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan; however, this bill has encountered a delay in the House of Representatives.

Supporters of the US aid for Palestinians have been advocating for the reinstatement of the $300 to $400 million that Washington normally donates annually. The US has up to now been the agency’s largest donor. The Biden administration has been urged to back UNRWA, particularly as humanitarian groups work to tackle the growing famine and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

Israel restricts the entry of aid into the besieged Gaza Strip, especially the north of the enclave. This has led to serious shortages of food, fresh water, medicine and fuel supplies and created famine conditions. At least 27 people, including children and the elderly, have died as a result of malnutrition in the enclave, where 2.3 million Palestinians live, two million of whom have been internally displaced as a result of Israel’s deadly military offensive.

The White House and congressional leaders have declined to provide details about the agreement until the spending bills’ texts are made public, said Reuters.

Eighteen countries and the EU suspended donations for UNRWA at the end of January. The move followed Israel’s allegation that 12 UNRWA employees — out of 13,000 in Gaza — had participated in the Hamas attack on 7 October. Israel has, to date, provided no proof of the allegation. Furthermore, it has killed at least 154 UNRWA employees since October.

The apartheid state has accused UNRWA personnel of being Hamas members as part of its efforts to discredit the agency. While providing no proof of its claims, it is 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.

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