Palestinian aid agency can’t be replaced, UN says, warning of ‘collapse’

Palestinian aid agency can’t be replaced, UN says, warning of ‘collapse’
Trucks of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) carrying fuel arrive at the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip on November 22, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 31 January 2024
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Palestinian aid agency can’t be replaced, UN says, warning of ‘collapse’

Palestinian aid agency can’t be replaced, UN says, warning of ‘collapse’

UNITED NATIONS: Nothing can “replace or substitute” the UN Palestinian refugee agency, whose staff were implicated in the Hamas attacks on Israel, the UN’s coordinator for Gaza aid said Tuesday even as Israel made new claims against it.

Several countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan, have suspended funding to the UNRWA agency, and the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was holding crunch talks with donor countries.

Agency chiefs in the UN’s highest-level humanitarian coordination forum, including the heads of the WHO, the UN rights office, UNICEF and the World Food Programme, warned defunding UNRWA risked a “catastrophic” humanitarian collapse in Gaza.

“Withdrawing funds from UNRWA is perilous and would result in the collapse of the humanitarian system in Gaza, with far-reaching humanitarian and human rights consequences in the occupied Palestinian territory and across the region,” said the statement from heads of organizations that form the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee.

The dispute intensified Tuesday after Israel accused the UNRWA of allowing Hamas to use agency infrastructure in Gaza for military activity.

UNRWA said it has acted promptly over allegations by Israel that 12 of its staff were involved in the Hamas attacks, adding that cuts in funding will affect ordinary Palestinians.

The UN agency has long been under scrutiny by Israel, which accuses it of systematically going against the country’s interests.

Israel has vowed to stop the agency’s work in Gaza after the war and doubled down on Tuesday when government spokesman Eylon Levy said UNRWA “has been fundamentally compromised.”

He accused it of “hiring terrorists on a massive scale, letting its infrastructure be used for Hamas military activity and relying on Hamas for aid distribution in the Gaza Strip.”

UN Gaza aid coordinator Sigrid Kaag said earlier Tuesday “there is no way that any organization can replace or substitute (the) tremendous capacity, the fabric of UNRWA — (their) ability and their knowledge of the population in Gaza.”

Washington, which said it was the largest donor to the agency having given $131 million to UNRWA since October, said it “very much supported” its work.

“There is no other humanitarian player in Gaza who can provide food and water and medicine at the scale that UNRWA does,” said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

“We want to see that work continued, which is why it is so important that the United Nations take this matter seriously, that they investigate, that there is accountability for anyone who is found to have engaged in wrongdoing.”

The unprecedented October 7 Hamas attack resulted in about 1,140 deaths, mostly civilians, in southern Israel, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Militants also seized 250 hostages, of whom Israel says around 132 remain in Gaza, including the bodies of at least 28.

Israel responded with a relentless military offensive that has killed at least 26,751 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in the territory.


British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group

British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group
Updated 18 April 2024
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British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group

British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group
  • Signatories to open letter say Iranian organization has ‘never posed a greater threat to UK’
  • Proscription would put Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on par with Daesh, Al-Qaeda

LONDON: A cross-party group of more than 50 MPs and Lords peers in the UK have demanded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be designated a terrorist organization.

The cross-party group, which includes former home secretaries Suella Braverman and Priti Patel, made the request in an open letter to The Times.

The IRGC is a key component of Iran’s military and power-projection capabilities. More than 125,000 personnel serve in its ranks, spread across wings including the Quds Force, the overseas element responsible for liaising with and supporting militias in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. In recent years, the IRGC has also built a relationship with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The open letter, signed by 134 people, follows last weekend’s Iranian attack on Israel, which signatories described as the “latest chapter of destructive terror by the IRGC.”

It says: “The government has combated extremism and terrorism by proscribing Hamas and Hezbollah but it is not enough.

“The IRGC is the primary source of ideological radicalisation, funding, equipment and training for these groups.

“The government must act against the root cause and proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation.”

Iran’s attack was a response to Israel’s strike on its consulate in Damascus that killed 11 people, including senior commanders.

Former US President Donald Trump designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization in 2019, a year before the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force.

But the UK has been reluctant to follow the US measure for fear of breaking diplomatic communication channels with Tehran.

As part of sanctions on Iran targeting its nuclear program, however, the UK sanctioned the IRGC, freezing the assets of its members and implementing travel bans.

A terrorist designation in the UK would put the IRGC on par with Daesh and Al-Qaeda, and make it illegal to support the group, with a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment.

The 134 signatories said the IRGC has “never posed a greater threat to the UK,” accusing “thugs” belonging to the group of stabbing an Iranian dissident in London last month.

The letter was coordinated by the UK-Israel All Parliamentary Party Group, which includes former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick.


Iran tells US it does not seek ‘expansion of tensions’

Iran tells US it does not seek ‘expansion of tensions’
Updated 18 April 2024
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Iran tells US it does not seek ‘expansion of tensions’

Iran tells US it does not seek ‘expansion of tensions’
  • Tehran carried out its first-ever direct attack on Israel, firing drones and missiles on the weekend
  • Top envoy: Iran communicated with Washington ‘before and after’ launching its attack on Israel

TEHRAN: Iran’s top diplomat said Thursday his country has told the United States that it is not seeking escalation after an unprecedented attack on Israel.
The Islamic republic carried out its first-ever direct attack on Israel, firing drones and missiles on the weekend. The barrage — to which Israel’s army chief has vowed a response — was retaliation for an April 1 air strike on Tehran’s consulate in Damascus. Iran blamed Israel for the consular attack.
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who is in New York to attend a UN Security Council meeting, said his country has “tried to tell the United States clearly” that Iran is “not looking for the expansion of tension in the region,” he said in a video posted by his ministry.
Iran and the United States have had no diplomatic relations since 1980, but neutral Switzerland represents Washington’s interests in Iran. Both the US and Iran have alluded to the Swiss role as an intermediary.
According to Amir-Abdollahian, Iran communicated with Washington “before and after” launching its attack on Israel.
Iran informed the United States that the decision by the Islamic Republic of Iran to “respond to the (Israel) regime is final,” and the matter concluded, he said.
Iran’s retaliation against Israel left a girl severely wounded but caused little damage. It followed the strike in Damascus that killed seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, including two generals.
“Before the operation, we clearly told the American side that we will not target American bases and interests in the region,” Amir-Abdollahian said.
The Islamic republic has celebrated the attack as a success but President Ebrahim Raisi warned of “a fierce and severe response” to further “aggression” by Israel.
During his trip to New York, Amir-Abdollahian is set to meet United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his counterparts from other countries.
The United States, Israel’s top ally, has said it would soon impose new sanctions on Iran’s missile and drone program following the strike on Israel, and said it expects allies to take parallel measures.
The US and other allies helped Israel intercept the Iranian strike.


Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip Palestinians of refugee status — agency chief

Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip Palestinians of refugee status — agency chief
Updated 18 April 2024
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Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip Palestinians of refugee status — agency chief

Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip Palestinians of refugee status — agency chief
  • Philippe Lazzarini tells Security Council demise of agency would also accelerate onset of famine in Gaza, and jeopardize transition from a ceasefire to recovery
  • Meeting of the council requested by Jordan in response to long-running, continual attempts by Israel to force the agency out of Gaza and have it dismantled entirely

NEW YORK CITY: Disbanding the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees would have lasting repercussions for millions of Palestinians because it would result in them being stripped of their refugee status, the head of the agency told the Security Council on Wednesday.

Philippe Lazzarini warned it would also accelerate the onset of famine in Gaza, and jeopardize the eventual transition from a ceasefire to recovery by depriving a traumatized population of the essential services it requires.

Some of the ramifications would be long term, he added: “It will make impossible the formidable task of bringing half a million deeply distressed girls and boys back to learning. Failing to deliver on education will condemn an entire generation to despair, fueling anger, resentment, an endless cycle of violence.”

The meeting of the council was requested by Jordan in response to long-running, continual attempts by Israeli authorities to force the agency out of Gaza, and have it dismantled entirely.

It began with a minute’s silence in honor of the 178 UNRWA employees killed during the war in Gaza.

The agency has been facing great challenges not only in its efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza, but also in ensuring it is able to continue its operations more generally.

More than 163 UNRWA installations in the Gaza Strip have been damaged during the war between Israel and Hamas, and only nine of its 24 healthcare facilities remain operational.

Meanwhile, the agency has been in a precarious financial position for some time, in part because of the decision by some major donor nations to suspend the funding they provide for the agency, which threatened to bring its operations grinding to a halt.

Several countries put their donations on hold after Israeli authorities alleged in January, without providing any supporting evidence, that 12 UNRWA workers had played a role in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel.

The agency terminated the contracts of the employees identified in the allegations, and the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the UN’s main investigative body, launched an inquiry at the request of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Separately, the UN also ordered an independent review, led by the French former minister of foreign affairs, Catherine Colonna, of the steps the agency takes to uphold the principle of neutrality among its workers. The review group is expected to present its findings on April 20.

Lazzarini told council members on Wednesday that the real reason behind the Israeli calls for UNRWA to be closed down is not about its adherence to humanitarian principles, it is an attempt to end the refugee status of millions of Palestinians. The true aim is to change the long-standing political parameters for peace in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, he added.

“Accusations that UNRWA has deliberately perpetuated Palestinians’ refugee status are false and dishonest,” Lazzarini said. “The agency exists because a political solution does not. It exists in lieu of a state that can deliver critical public services.

“The international community has long attempted to contain, rather than resolve, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lip service is paid to the two-state solution each time an escalation occurs, costing lives and hope.

“UNRWA was created 75 years ago as a temporary agency, a stop-gap measure, pending a political answer to the question of Palestine.

“If the international community truly commits to a political solution, UNRWA can retrieve its temporary nature by supporting a time-bomb transition, delivering education, primary healthcare and social support. It can do so until a Palestinian administration takes over the services.”

Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzia, called on the Security Council to consider, as a matter of urgency, imposing sanctions on Israel for its failure to implement the council’s recent ceasefire resolution.

“Everyone knows about the facts, the unthinkable statistics, the number of people dead and those in need of urgent food and medical assistance, as well as reported cases of people dying of famine and dehydration, including minors,” he said.

“The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is blocking half of humanitarian convoys, yet aid supplies are waiting at the border. We warned time and time again that in the absence of a lasting, sustainable ceasefire, which must be duly monitored by military observers, all of our humanitarian efforts are doomed.”

The US deputy ambassador to the UN, Robert Wood, said the conflict in Gaza has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of the number of aid workers killed, with the total standing at more than 240 since Oct. 7.

“These incidents are unacceptable. Humanitarian personnel must be protected, full stop,” he said, and he expressed deep concern that “Israel has not done enough to protect humanitarian aid workers or civilians.”

Wood added: “UNRWA plays a crucial role throughout the region, contributes to stability of the region and supporting Palestinian refugees, to educating hundreds of thousands of students, to providing primary healthcare and critical relief and social services.

“UNRWA is the bedrock of support for the most vulnerable Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank. The United States supports this important work and emphasizes that it must continue uninterrupted.”


Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip millions of Palestinians of refugee status: agency chief

Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip millions of Palestinians of refugee status: agency chief
Updated 6 min 16 sec ago
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Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip millions of Palestinians of refugee status: agency chief

Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip millions of Palestinians of refugee status: agency chief
  • Philippe Lazzarini tells Security Council demise of agency would also accelerate onset of famine in Gaza, and jeopardize transition from a ceasefire to recovery
  • Meeting of the council requested by Jordan in response to long-running, continual attempts by Israel to force the agency out of Gaza and have it dismantled entirely

NEW YORK CITY: Disbanding the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees would have lasting repercussions for millions of Palestinians because it would result in them being stripped of their refugee status, the head of the agency told the Security Council on Wednesday.

Philippe Lazzarini warned it would also accelerate the onset of famine in Gaza, and jeopardize the eventual transition from a ceasefire to recovery by depriving a traumatized population of the essential services it requires.

Some of the ramifications would be long term, he added: “It will make impossible the formidable task of bringing half a million deeply distressed girls and boys back to learning. Failing to deliver on education will condemn an entire generation to despair, fueling anger, resentment, an endless cycle of violence.”

The meeting of the council was requested by Jordan in response to long-running, continual attempts by Israeli authorities to force the agency out of Gaza, and have it dismantled entirely.

It began with a minute’s silence in honor of the 178 UNRWA employees killed during the war in Gaza.

The agency has been facing great challenges not only in its efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza, but also in ensuring it is able to continue its operations more generally.

More than 163 UNRWA installations in the Gaza Strip have been damaged during the war between Israel and Hamas, and only nine of its 24 healthcare facilities remain operational.

Meanwhile the agency has been in a precarious financial position for some time, in part because of the decision by some major donor nations to suspend the funding they provide for the agency, which threatened to bring its operations grinding to a halt.

Several countries put their donations on hold after Israeli authorities alleged in January, without providing any supporting evidence, that 12 UNRWA workers had played a role in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel.

The agency terminated the contracts of the employees identified in the allegations, and the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the UN’s main investigative body, launched an inquiry at the request of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Separately, the UN also ordered an independent review, led by the French former minister of foreign affairs, Catherine Colonna, of the steps the agency takes to uphold the principle of neutrality among its workers. The review group is expected to present its findings on April 20.

Lazzarini told council members on Wednesday that the real reason behind the Israeli calls for UNRWA to be closed down is not about its adherence to humanitarian principles, it is an attempt to end the refugee status of millions of Palestinians. The true aim is to change the long-standing political parameters for peace in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, he added.

“Accusations that UNRWA has deliberately perpetuated Palestinians’ refugee status are false and dishonest,” Lazzarini said. “The agency exists because a political solution does not. It exists in lieu of a state that can deliver critical public services.

“The international community has long attempted to contain, rather than resolve, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lip service is paid to the two-state solution each time an escalation occurs, costing lives and hope.

“UNRWA was created 75 years ago as a temporary agency, a stop-gap measure, pending a political answer to the question of Palestine.

“If the international community truly commits to a political solution, UNRWA can retrieve its temporary nature by supporting a time-bomb transition, delivering education, primary healthcare and social support. It can do so until a Palestinian administration takes over the services.”

Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzia, called on the Security Council to consider, as a matter of urgency, imposing sanctions on Israel for its failure to implement the council’s recent ceasefire resolution.

“Everyone knows about the facts, the unthinkable statistics, the number of people dead and those in need of urgent food and medical assistance, as well as reported cases of people dying of famine and dehydration, including minors,” he said.

“The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is blocking half of humanitarian convoys, yet aid supplies are waiting at the border. We warned time and time again that in the absence of a lasting, sustainable ceasefire, which must be duly monitored by military observers, all of our humanitarian efforts are doomed.”

The US deputy ambassador to the UN, Robert Wood, said the conflict in Gaza has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of the number of aid workers killed, with the total standing at more than 240 since Oct. 7.

“These incidents are unacceptable. Humanitarian personnel must be protected, full stop,” he said, and he expressed deep concern that “Israel has not done enough to protect humanitarian aid workers or civilians.”

Wood added: “UNRWA plays a crucial role throughout the region, contributes to stability of the region and supporting Palestinian refugees, to educating hundreds of thousands of students, to providing primary healthcare and critical relief and social services.

“UNRWA is the bedrock of support for the most vulnerable Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank. The United States supports this important work and emphasizes that it must continue uninterrupted.”

The children in Israel’s prisons
Ongoing hostage-for-prisoners exchange opens the world’s eyes to arrests, interrogations, and even abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities
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Jordan says Israeli retaliation for Iran strikes risks wider regional war

Jordan says Israeli retaliation for Iran strikes risks wider regional war
Updated 6 min 2 sec ago
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Jordan says Israeli retaliation for Iran strikes risks wider regional war

Jordan says Israeli retaliation for Iran strikes risks wider regional war
  • Safadi warned that his country would act firmly in the event of another flare-up and that Jordan would not allow “either Iran or Israel to turn the kingdom into a battlefield”

AMMAN: Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Wednesday an Israeli retaliation against Iranian strikes could bring a real risk of dragging the whole region into a devastating war.
In an interview released by state media, Safadi said his country was lobbying major powers against an escalation that would have far-reaching consequences for regional stability and security.
“The risks are enormous. That could drag the whole region into war, which would be devastating to us in the region and we’ll have very, very serious implications for the rest of the world including the U.S,” Safadi said.
“The situation is too dangerous. The chances of regional explosion are real, and that has got to stop. We’ve got to make sure there’s no further escalation,” he added.
Staunch US ally Jordan, with the help of American air defenses and support from the UK and France, shot down most of the Iranian drones and missiles that were flying over the country toward Jerusalem and a wide range of targets in Israel.
“Now the pressure should be on Israel not to escalate,” Safadi said, adding Tehran had said it attacked in retaliation for a suspected Israeli airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 and would not go further unless Israel responded.
Jordan neighbors Syria and Iraq – both countries where Iranian proxy forces operate – and is next door to Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank
“We are in the middle of the fire, so both parties have to understand that we’ll do what we have to do to protect our own, and to prevent this escalation,” Safadi said.
Safadi warned that his country would act firmly in the event of another flare-up and that Jordan would not allow “either Iran or Israel to turn the kingdom into a battlefield.”
“We will take down any projectiles that threaten our peoples and violate our sovereignty, and pose a threat to Jordanians. And we made this clear to both Israel and Iran,” he said.
Iranian drones that came from the direction of Iraq and flew over southern Jordan and the city of Aqaba that were heading to Israel’s Eilat port were also intercepted.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was using the confrontation with Iran to divert attention from Gaza, Safadi said. The Israeli leader should not be allowed to drag “Washington and major Western powers into a war with Iran,” he added.

The children in Israel’s prisons
Ongoing hostage-for-prisoners exchange opens the world’s eyes to arrests, interrogations, and even abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities
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