UN urges aid to Palestinians not to be cut: update on war between Israel and Hamas

UN urges aid to Palestinians not to be cut: update on war between Israel and Hamas

The UN agency that provides aid to Palestinians has been a vital lifeline in the Gaza Strip for generations – and it was a point of contention with Israel long before some of the agency’s employees are accused of being involved in the attack carried out by Hamas on October 7 against Israel.

This allegation, made by Israel, is a serious blow to the reputation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, generally known as UNRWA. That assertion was followed by both the United Nations, which said Friday it had fired the accused workers and was investigating, and the United States, which said it was suspending some funding for the agency.

Here’s a closer look at the organization and its work.

What does UNRWA do?

UNRWA provides a range of social services to people registered as Palestinian refugees in the wars surrounding the formation of Israel, as well as their descendants in Gaza, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The agency is particularly important in Gaza, where most of the population of more than two million lives. registered as refugees. Gaza has long been under an Israeli blockade and Hamas – considered a terrorist group by much of the world – is in control. No government takes even partial responsibility for governing the territory, and the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited powers in the West Bank, was effectively expelled from Gaza during a power struggle with Hamas in 2007 .

UNRWA builds and operates schools, medical clinics, shelters and playgrounds throughout the country. She provides food, housing assistance and emergency loans and even supervises garbage collection. It is one of Gaza’s largest employers, with 13,000 mostly Palestinian workers, a rarity in an enclave where almost half of adults are unemployed.

“Essentially, for the last several decades, we have been running a parallel government in Gaza,” Hector Sharp, head of the agency’s legal office, said in an October interview.

What are the allegations against UNRWA?

It’s not entirely clear.

U.N. and U.S. officials have referred to claims that some UNRWA employees may have been “involved” in the Oct. 7 attacks, but have not elaborated on that involvement or whether it was included one of the worst atrocities committed that day.

The State Department cited 12 employees who were accused and fired — UNRWA did not provide a figure — but it is unclear what type of work they were doing or what level of management they were at. It also remains to be seen whether the investigations will result in more such allegations.

What is UNRWA’s relationship with Israel?

Israel has long accused UNRWA of operating in collusion with Hamas, helping it indoctrinate Gaza residents with anti-Israel propaganda and turning a blind eye to Hamas militants who fire rockets at Israel and operate a vast network of tunnels in the territory.

Hamas oversees what little civilian public administration exists in Gaza, so the people and agencies under its control inevitably interact with the agency, but the extent and nature of this cooperation has been the subject of much debate. competing claims.

Israel also objects to people born outside Israel being classified as refugees.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went so far as to accuse the agency of perpetuating rather than alleviating the plight of the Palestinians and called on the United Nations to disband it.

Israeli officials have long accused Arab countries of “wanting the Palestinian refugee problem to remain unresolved, so that there is a constant reminder of the Palestinian tragedy,” said Ahron Bregman, a senior professor at King’s College London and specializing in the Arab-Israeli conflict. . “UNRWA, as Israelis see it, is a tool for keeping the Palestinian refugee problem unresolved. »

But some experts say that despite hostile public remarks, Israel, which occupied Gaza from 1967 to 2005, needed the agency to ensure stability there. “Behind the scenes, Israel has often favored the work of UNRWA,” said Anne Irfan, an expert on Palestinian refugee rights at University College London.

Why was UNRWA created?

UNRWA was established in 1949 to help some 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from Israel during the wars surrounding its creation and whom Israel had barred from returning.

Many settled in refugee camps that the agency helped create, and which have since become built-up, mostly poor urban areas.

Palestinians are the only refugee group whose support is not managed within the overall mandate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary donations from UN member states, with the United States and European Union countries providing the bulk of the funding.

The agency, which said it was short of funds even before the current war began, called for a massive infusion of cash to meet additional needs.

What was the role of UNRWA during this war?

Since Israel began its bombing and ground invasion campaign in retaliation for the October 7 attack, UNRWA has taken primary responsibility for trying to shelter Gazans displaced from their homes – who now number nearly of 90 percent of the population.

The agency has transformed its schools, clinics and offices into emergency shelters that have become very overcrowded, and has also set up large tent camps. She has also been heavily involved in the distribution of badly needed food, water and medicine.

He also shared the suffering of the people of Gaza, where the Health Ministry says more than 25,000 people have been killed during the war. The agency says 152 of its employees were among the dead and 141 of its facilities were damaged or destroyed.

Megan Specia And Ben Hubbard reports contributed.

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Eric D. Eilerman

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