Photo: Agence France-Presse “Sanctioning UNRWA amounts to collectively punishing the Gazan population,” warned its director. In the photo, displaced Palestinians receive food aid at the UNRWA center in Rafah, Gaza Strip.
Didier Lauras – Agence France-Presse in Jerusalem
January 28, 2024
- Middle East
Israel promised on Saturday to put an end to (UNRWA), at the heart of humanitarian aid in Gaza but caught in the turmoil of a controversy over the possible role of some of its employees in the attack on October 7.
Italy, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Finland and Germany followed in the footsteps of the United States, which announced on Friday that it was temporarily suspending any additional aid to the agency, long vilified by Israel but now requested to conduct an internal investigation. in-depth.
The agency parted ways with employees – twelve according to the Americans – accused of being involved in the October 7 attack by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas on Israeli soil, on the base information from the Israeli authorities.
Its head, Philippe Lazzarini found it “shocking to see the suspension of funds in response to allegations against a small group of employees”, given the measures already taken and the role of the agency whose “2 million people depend on them for their simple survival.”
“Mr. Lazzarini, please resign,” Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz wrote on the social network funding would lead to the cessation of the UN agency's operations.
“Create an alternative”
The alleged facts have not been specified. But Mr. Katz said earlier Saturday that UNRWA no longer had a future in the Gaza Strip.
The government wants to ensure that the agency “will not be part” of the post-war solution in this Palestinian territory, said the Israeli foreign minister, calling for favoring agencies “sincerely devoted to peace and development.”
Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said the time had come to “create an alternative that will not educate generations of Palestinians in hatred.”
Hamas, for its part, asked “the United Nations and international organizations not to give in to threats and blackmail,” accusing Israel of wanting to deprive Gazans of all international aid.
And Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh called on countries withdrawing support for UNRWA to “immediately reverse their decision.” The agency, he argued, “needs maximum support […] not to have support and assistance withdrawn.”
The October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of around 1,140 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli figures.
In retaliation, Israel vowed to “annihilate” Hamas, in power in Gaza since 2007, and launched a vast military operation that left 26,257 people dead, the vast majority of them women, children and adolescents, according to a report updated on Saturday by the ministry. of the Health of the Islamist movement.
Relations between Israel and UNRWA deteriorated further this week, when the UN accused two Israeli tanks of firing on one of its shelters in Khan Younes, in the south of the Strip. Gaza, sheltering tens of thousands of displaced people.
According to the agency, 13 people were killed and more than 56 injured, including 21 in critical condition.
UNRWA denounced a “blatant violation of the fundamental rules of war” and the Israeli army reported a “thorough review” of its operations, without ruling out the possibility of a Hamas strike. It is the only force to deploy tanks in Gaza.
On Friday, the head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell remained cautious, preferring to wait for “full transparency” and “immediate measures” before making a decision.
Switzerland also decided not to decide, wanting “more information” before approving its budget for 2024.
Contacted by AFP, Johann Soufi, international lawyer and former director of the UNRWA legal office in Gaza, defended the “zero tolerance policy for violence and incitement to hatred » from the agency.
“Sanctioning UNRWA, which is barely keeping the entire population of Gaza alive, for the alleged responsibility of a few employees, amounts to collectively punishing the Gazan population who live in catastrophic humanitarian conditions. »
The case came to light on Friday, just after the UN's highest court, the International Court of Justice, called on Israel to prevent any possible acts of “genocide” in Gaza.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ), which however did not call for a ceasefire, was seized by South Africa, which considers that Israel is violating the United Nations Convention on the genocide.
A “temporality which necessarily questions”, estimated Johann Soufi.