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

Agence France-Presse
Palestinian aid agency can't be replaced, UN says, warning of 'collapse'
Smoke billows during Israeli strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip near the border with Egypt on January 30, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
AFP / Mohammed Abed

UNITED NATIONS, United States — 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.

 'Fundamentally compromised' 

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.

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