ROME: Pro-Palestinian protesters hold a banner during a demonstration demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, on Saturday. The banner reads: ‘Cease fire! Justice for Palestine, peace for two peoples.’ Australia, Britain and Canada alongside a couple of European countries have suspended funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, after Israel accused several employees of involvement in Hamas’s October 7 attack.—Reuters
ROME: Pro-Palestinian protesters hold a banner during a demonstration demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, on Saturday. The banner reads: ‘Cease fire! Justice for Palestine, peace for two peoples.’ Australia, Britain and Canada alongside a couple of European countries have suspended funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, after Israel accused several employees of involvement in Hamas’s October 7 attack.—Reuters

• UK, Canada, Australia, Finland follow the US lead
• Israeli forces kill 124 in Gaza, as heavy rain hits displaced residents
• UN agency needs ‘maximum support’, says Palestine minister

GAZA STRIP: While bad weather hit displaced Palestinians seeking refuge further north in the battered enclave, Israel pressed ahead on Saturday with its aggression in Gaza’s Khan Younis area after the failure of UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) to call for a ceasefire.

Aggravating the crisis for Palestinians, the UK, Australia, Canada, Italy and Finland suspended their funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) despite the Palestinian Authority insistence that the organisation needs ‘maximum’ support.

On the day of ICJ’s ruling that Israel must prevent possible acts of genocide, 174 Palestinians were killed during the unabated hostilities. Gaza health authorities said on Saturday some 26,257 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 65,000 wounded so far, including 174 lives lost during the last 24 hours.

The majority of the enclave’s 2.3 million population has been displaced. Residents reported heavy aerial and tank fire across Khan Yunis, a part of southern Gaza that has become the focus of Israel’s ground offensive against Hamas, and around two main hospitals there.

After the ICJ ruling amid Israeli accusations that several employees of UNRWA were involved in October 7 attack, the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, Italy and Finland suspended funding to the UN agency.

Set up to help refugees of the 1948 war, UNRWA provides education, health and aid services to Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

“In Gaza’s rebuilding, UNRWA must be replaced with agencies dedicated to genuine peace and development,” Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a statement, urging more donors to suspend funding.

Hamas slammed Israeli “threats” against UNRWA, urging the United Nations and other international organisations not to “cave in to the threats and blackmail”.

Relations between Israel and UNRWA, which have been strained for years, deteriorated further in recent days, with the UN agency condemning tank shelling it said had hit a shelter for displaced people in Gaza’s main southern city of Khan Yunis.

The agency said tens of thousands of displaced people had been registered at the shelter and Wednesday’s tank shelling killed 13 people.

Asked about the incident, the Israeli army said “a thorough review of the operations of the forces in the vicinity is underway”, adding it was examining the possibility that the strike was a “result of Hamas fire”.

UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini slammed Israeli bombardment at UN shelter as a “blatant disregard of basic rules of war”, with the compound clearly marked as a UN facility and its coordinates shared with Israeli authorities.

However, Israel vowed to stop the UN agency at the heart of humanitarian efforts in Gaza from operating after the war. “UNRWA will not be a part of the day after”, Foreign Minister Israel Katz earlier wrote on X, formerly Twitter, adding that he would try to gather support from the US, EU and other major donors to the agency.

UN urged not to cave in Palestinian group Hamas slammed the Israeli “threats” against UNRWA, urging the UN and other international organisations not to “cave in to the threats and blackmail”.

Similarly, the Palestinian Authority’s minister for civilian affairs, Hussein Al-Sheikh, said on X, formerly Twitter, “We need the maximum support for this international organisation and not stopping support and assistance to it.”

UNRWA did not react on Saturday to the announcement of the suspension of funds.

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2024

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