UN chief seeks to maintain aid flow as Gaza battle rages

Published January 29, 2024
Palestinians carry bags of flour they grabbed from an aid truck near an Israeli checkpoint, as Gaza residents face crisis levels of hunger, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza City. — Reuters
Palestinians carry bags of flour they grabbed from an aid truck near an Israeli checkpoint, as Gaza residents face crisis levels of hunger, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza City. — Reuters

GAZA STRIP: Heavy fighting raged in Gaza on Sunday amid a fierce row over the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees that has called its future into question.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on donor states to guarantee the flow of vital aid to Gaza after several halted funding to the agency, UNRWA, over Israeli claims that some of its staff participated in the October 7 attacks.

Amid raging Gaza fighting, diplomatic efforts to find a solution also gathered pace as the head of the US Central Intelligence Agency as well as top Egyptian, Qatari and Israeli officials were in Paris on Sunday working towards a ceasefire.

The Israeli army on Sunday said special forces were continuing to engage in “intensive battles” in Gaza’s main Khan Yunis.

Diplomatic efforts for a ceasefire gather pace with US, Egypt, Qatar and Israel officials meeting in Paris

Strikes were also carried out in central and northern Gaza, it added.

As heavy fighting sent more people fleeing south towards the Egyptian border, the row over the UNRWA aid agency for Palestinian refugees deepened.

UNRWA said on Friday it had fired several employees over Israel’s unspecified accusations.

“While I understand their concerns — I was myself horrified by these accusations — I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations,” Guterres said on Saturday.

He said the “abhorrent alleged acts” of some UNRWA staff should not mean that its thousands of other humanitarian workers should be penalised.

“The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met,” he said.

Israel’s envoy to the UN slammed Guterres, claiming the UN chief had repeatedly ignored “evidence” presented to him regarding UNRWA’s alleged involvement in “incitement and terrorism”.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called on UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini to quit after saying earlier the body “must be replaced with agencies dedicated to genuine peace and development”.

“Mr Lazzarini please resign,” Katz said on X, formerly Twitter, late on Saturday, in response to a post by the UNRWA chief warning that the funding cuts meant the agency’s operation in Gaza was close to collapse.

Diplomatic efforts for solution

Diplomatic efforts to find a solution also gathered pace as the head of the US Central Intelligence Agency as well as top Egyptian, Qatari and Israeli officials were in Paris on Sunday working for a ceasefire in Gaza, officials close to the participants said.

French authorities were also in touch with these four countries with the aim of negotiating a halt to hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the besieged territory, the sources said.

The New York Times said on Saturday that US-led negotiators were getting closer to an agreement under which Israel would suspend its war in Gaza for about two months in return for the release of more than 100 hostages.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2024

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