Arab countries, bloc slam Western UNRWA funding pause as “collective punishment,” “irresponsible”

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Arab countries and bloc on Sunday slammed the recent Western suspension of funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), a UN body providing essential services to Palestinian refugees, as “irresponsible,” saying it would further impact the already vulnerable Palestinians.

Warning against the decision as a “collective punishment” on the Palestinians, Arab League (AL) Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said, “This campaign is not new, and the desire to liquidate the work of the agency that serves millions of Palestinian refugees has been repeated in different forms over the past years,” according to a statement by the Cairo-based pan-Arab bloc.

It came as six European countries, including Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Finland, on Saturday joined the United States, Australia and Canada in pausing funding to the UNRWA after Israel accused several employees of the UN agency of suspected involvement in the Hamas attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, 2023.

The AL chief lamented that key Western contributors just suspended their funding for the agency “at this dangerous stage” over mere accusations against a limited number of individuals among such a large number of UNRWA employees.

He added that the goal of the Western campaign against the UNRWA is “to push the international community to abandon its responsibilities in providing relief to the Palestinian refugees.”

Earlier in the day, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry held phone talks with UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, during which Shoukry expressed Egypt’s full support for the UN relief agency.

“The attempts to target the UNRWA at this difficult time and to limit its ability to carry out its tasks in Gaza exacerbate the dangerous effects of the policy of siege, starvation and collective punishment that Israel imposes on the Palestinians,” a statement by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry quoted Shoukry as saying.

For his part, Lazzarini regretted the Western suspension of UNRWA funding amid “the current humanitarian crisis that the Palestinians are suffering from in Gaza.”

Meanwhile, the Palestinian presidency said Sunday that the campaign led by Israel against the UNRWA aims to liquidate the Palestinian refugee issue, urging the countries that announced a UNRWA funding pause to reconsider their decisions.

“The refugee issue is the essence of the Palestinian cause, for which dozens of UN resolutions have been adopted,” the presidency said in a statement, emphasizing that suspending support for the UNRWA “would punish millions of our people unjustly, especially as they were displaced from their land since 1948, and Israel continues to commit crimes against them, including its recent attacks in the Gaza Strip.”

Also on Sunday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on social media platform X that “the UNRWA is the lifeline for the over 2 million Palestinians facing starvation in Gaza.”

“It (the UNRWA) should not be collectively punished upon allegations against 12 persons out of its 13,000 staff,” said Safadi. “The UNRWA acted responsibly and began an investigation, and we urge countries that suspended funds to reverse their decisions.”

Currently, some 5.9 million Palestinian refugees are eligible for the UNRWA services in its areas of operations, which include Jordan, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank, according to the UN agency.

“It is clear that this decision came as part of the efforts to place more pressure on the UN, and it seeks to add further obstacles to providing aid to the Palestinians,” Jordanian economist Hosam Ayesh said. “It is the defenseless refugees who will suffer at all levels, as they rely heavily on health and education services as well as food support from the agency,” Ayesh added.

The U.S. decision is unjustified, as it’s based merely on allegations at this stage, said Raed Omari, Jordanian political analyst and a senior political editor at the Jordan Press Foundation, adding that millions of Palestinians will suffer because of this “irresponsible decision.”

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