Arab League criticises 'systematic campaign' against UNRWA

Egyptian Foreign Minister says funding freeze is 'collective punishment' against the agency's employees and Palestinians

Palestinians carry food aid distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency at Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza, in September 2008. AFP
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The Arab League has accused Israel of a “systematic campaign” against the UN's agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), after Israel alleged that employees of the agency had taken part in the October 7 Hamas attacks.

A joint statement by permanent representatives to the league said funding the UNRWA was a responsibility for the international community.

The US and seven other western countries said they would freeze funding for the UN agency after 12 employees were identified as possible suspects in the Hamas attacks that killed 1,200 people in Israel.

“The suspension of financing to the agency robs the Palestinians of any glimmer of hope, undermines peace prospects and pushes the region into further instability,” the Arab League said.

It called on all nations that froze funding to reconsider their stance.

The UNRWA was struggling to continue operations in Gaza long before the war with Israel broke out on October 7, killing more than 26,200 people in the besieged Palestinian enclave.

In a phone call with UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said the funding freeze amounted to “collective punishment” against the agency's employees and the Palestinian people.

Among the agency's constituency are two million Palestinians in Gaza and half a million in Lebanon.

Jordan is also home to about two million Palestinian refugees, having received mass flows of people when Israel was created in 1948, and when Israel expanded during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

“Even if the Israeli accusations are proven, punishing the refugees is not allowed,” Rafik Kharfan, head of the Palestinian Affairs Department at the Foreign Ministry told state television late on Saturday.

Mr Kharfan called for UNRWA funding “to be increased, not stopped”, referring to the “difficult conditions” the body is facing because of the war.

The UN now says more of its staff have been killed in the current war than in any other previous conflict, with 152 dead and 141 UNRWA compounds damaged in the war.

Updated: January 29, 2024, 6:27 AM