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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Displaced Palestinians receive food aid at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) centre in Rafah on January 28, 2024. — AFP pic
NEW YORK, Jan 31 — 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 yesterday 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 is preparing to meet donor countries.
The dispute intensified after Israel accused the UNRWA of allowing Hamas to use agency infrastructure in Gaza for military activity.
“There is no way that any organisation can replace or substitute (the) tremendous capacity, the fabric of UNRWA — (their) ability and their knowledge of the population in Gaza,” said aid coordinator Sigrid Kaag, referring to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.
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.”
Washington, which said it was the largest donor to the agency having given US$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.
Hamas 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 has killed at least 26,751 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in the territory. — AFP
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