UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described the UN Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA) as “the backbone of any humanitarian response in Gaza” and called on all countries to “ensure the continuity of UNRWA’s lifesaving work.”
Several countries, including the United States, UNRWA’s largest donor, funding suspended after Israel accused some agency staff of participating in the Hamas attack on October 7.
Speaking to the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) on Wednesday, Guterres said he was “personally horrified” by the situation. accusations carried out against UNRWA staff, but stressed the need to overcome this dismissal.
“Yesterday, I met with donors to listen to their concerns and outline the steps we are taking to address them,” he said.
“I am extremely concerned about the inhumane conditions faced by Gaza’s 2.2 million residents, as they struggle to survive without any of the basics. »
Describing conditions inside the besieged enclave, the UN chief said heavy rains were flooding makeshift tent camps, forcing children, parents and the elderly to sleep in the mud. Drinking water has become almost completely inaccessible and preventable illnesses are commonplace, while the healthcare system has collapsed.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Wednesday of a “massive catastrophe” underway in Gaza.
“This is a population that is starving, this is a population that is pushed to the brink,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a news conference.
“Gaza’s civilians are not parties to this conflict and must be protected, as must their health facilities.
U.N. officials have warned that UNRWA will have to suspend operations by the end of February if funding is not restored.
The heads of the WHO, the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other agencies and partners have called the allegations “horrific”.
“However, we must not prevent an entire organization from fulfilling its mandate to serve people who desperately need it,” they said in a joint statement. “No other entity has the capacity to provide the depth and breadth of aid that 2.2 million people in Gaza urgently need. »
“Completely dependent” on UNRWA
At a UN Security Council meeting on Gaza on Wednesday, UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said UNRWA plays a fundamental role in the humanitarian response in Gaza.
“To put it very simply and bluntly: our humanitarian response in the occupied Palestinian territory depends, entirely, on UNRWA being properly funded and operational,” Griffiths told the 15-member council.
“UNRWA’s vital services… serving more than three-quarters of Gaza’s residents should not be compromised by the alleged actions of a few individuals. This is a matter of extraordinary disproportion,” he said.
Griffiths added that the capacity of the humanitarian community to provide aid to the people of Gaza remained “grossly insufficient”.
“We continue to face the problem of Israel denying essential items entry into Gaza for reasons that, at least to us, are unclear and inconsistent,” he said.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) last week ordered Israel to take all measures in its power to prevent its troops from committing genocide and take steps to improve the humanitarian situation Palestinians in Gaza, in a case brought by South Africa.
In its much-anticipated interim ruling on Friday, the ICJ stopped short of calling for an immediate ceasefire but said Israel must quickly implement “immediate and effective” measures to ensure aid delivery humanitarian and basic services that Gaza urgently needs.
South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said on Wednesday that all states had an obligation to stop financing and facilitating Israel’s military actions in Gaza after the World Court clearly established that these actions risked to constitute genocide.
Israel must report to the court, within a month, what it is doing to enforce the order to take all measures in its power to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza.
Accusations against UNRWA
The accusations against UNRWA staff members became public Friday, when the agency announced it had fired some employees after Israel provided information. Guterres said Sunday that of the 12 people involved, nine had been fired, one had died and the identities of the other two were being clarified.
A six-page Israeli dossier says 12 UNRWA personnel took part in the October 7 attacks that killed 1,139 people. It also suggests that Israel has broader evidence that UNRWA employed 190 Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters.
Later Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said UNRWA had been “totally infiltrated” by Hamas and called for its dissolution.
“It is time for the international community and the UN itself to understand that the mission of UNRWA must end,” Netanyahu told visiting UN delegates, according to a statement from his office.
The Palestinians claimed that Israel had falsified information to tarnish UNRWA.
Donors, including the European Union and several European countries, the United Kingdom, Japan and Canada, have suspended funding to the agency.
Riyad Mansour, the UN permanent observer for the Palestinian territories, told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that there was no reason to “take measures that effectively amount to collective punishment of the 30,000 UNRWA employees and millions of refugees” who benefit from UNRWA services.
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the United States was working to facilitate the delivery of additional aid to Gaza, avoiding reports that Israel had consistently blocked efforts delivery of UN aid.
Thomas-Greenfield also said the ICJ’s decision was consistent with the US approach to Gaza and that the conditions for a ceasefire “do not exist.”
South Africa’s Pandor said Pretoria had done all it could and it was now up to the global community to play its role in holding Israel to account.