US lawmakers move to bar funds for UN Palestinian agency

US lawmakers move to bar funds for UN Palestinian agency
US lawmakers move to bar funds for UN Palestinian agency

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Displaced Palestinians wait to receive United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) aid, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, March 7, 2024. — AFP file pic

WASHINGTON, March 22 — US lawmakers moved yesterday toward prohibiting any further funding for the UN’s embattled agency for Palestinians, which Israel has sought to link to Hamas.

President Joe Biden’s administration has already suspended funding for UNRWA after Israel alleged that several of its employees participated in the October 7 attack.

But with the United Nations warning of famine in Gaza, the Biden administration had hoped to resume support after an investigation, believing that only UNRWA has the capacity to feed hungry Gazans.

A US$1.2 trillion funding package hammered out by lawmakers early yesterday says US government money — either leftover funds from the current year or in the next fiscal year — “may not be used for a contribution, grant or other payment” for UNRWA.

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Lawmakers released the plan to keep the government running ahead of a deadline of midnight today, when three-quarters of the government will run out of funds if a deal is not reached.

Both the Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate are expected to approve the plan, which would then be sent to Biden for his signature, despite misgivings by a number of lawmakers about some provisions.

House Speaker Mike Johnson trumpeted the section on UNRWA, saying in a statement that the package “halts funding for the United Nations agency which employed terrorists who participated in the October 7 attacks against Israel.”

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Representative Ro Khanna, a progressive Democrat, said he would vote no on the legislation, saying it effectively deprived food to starving children.

“The America I believe in must never be indifferent to the man-made starvation of children,” Khanna wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Israel has accused 12 of UNRWA’s roughly 13,000 Gaza employees of participating in the attack, which prompted the Israeli military campaign, and accused the agency of being a front for Hamas, which controls Gaza.

UNRWA said it fired the employees and is now subject to an independent UN investigation.

Israel has long criticised UNRWA, which stands for the UN Relief and World Agency for Palestinian Refugees.

It is a major provider of education as well as food to Palestinian refugees, defined as Palestinians who fled or were expelled around the time of Israel’s 1948 creation, or their descendants.

This week, Israel barred UNRWA’s chief, Philippe Lazzarini, from visiting Gaza, saying he did not go through proper procedures.

The State Department said it provided US$121 million to UNRWA in the current fiscal year and that its suspension only affected about US$300,000.

Expecting opposition from Republicans to resuming funding, the Biden administration has been reaching out to other countries to make contributions.

Saudi Arabia, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited this week, announced Wednesday that it was donating US$40 million to UNRWA. — AFP

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