Speaking to The Financial Times on Saturday, UNRWA’s chief said that Israel has not presented evidence over its allegations against the agency.
Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani reiterated his country’s support for the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) on Monday in a meeting with the agency’s chief, Philippe Lazzarini, in Doha.
A statement by Doha’s foreign ministry on the meeting said Sheikh Mohammed—who is also Qatar’s foreign minister—said the discussions dealt with cooperation between the country and UNRWA “especially in the humanitarian field in the Gaza Strip.”
Sheikh Mohammed stressed during the meeting that “Qatar will continue to support UNRWA whose responsibility has been doubled amid the current cataclysmic humanitarian situation facing the innocent civilian population in the Gaza Strip.”
“He stressed the State of Qatar’s keenness to continue the unhindered and sustainable delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. He underscored the State of Qatar’s appreciation for the critical role performed by UNRWA in helping millions of people in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon,” the statement added.
The meeting came after 16 countries decided to halt their funding of the agency last month.
The countries represented $440 million of the agency’s overall funding, according to UNRWA.
The collective decision by major donors, including the United States, came after Israel accused 12 of UNRWA’s employees of allegedly being involved in Hamas’s surprise attack of October 7, 2023.
The agency, which has at least 12,000 employees, sacked nine of those accused. Two more were reportedly missing and one was killed amid Israel’s onslaught on the besieged enclave.
In the meeting with UNRWA’s chief, Sheikh Mohammed “warned of the catastrophic consequences arising from” halting the funding for the agency.
The Qatari official also “called for separating between UNRWA as a UN agency with deep-rooted values and traditions and the claims unleashed against a handful of its personnel who are being interrogated.”
Sheikh Mohammed made similar remarks in New York on Saturday in his meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Qatar is among UNRWA’s most important regional donors and was the first Arab country to sign a multi-year agreement with the agency in 2018.
Israel not presented evidence over UNRWA allegations
UNRWA was going through a “chronic underfunding crisis” even before Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza and had urged for donations to support Palestinians in the besieged enclave.
Israel’s war has killed at least 27,478 people and wounded 66,835 others since the beginning of the war on October 7, 2023. The war increased the demand for UNRWA’s assistance, with 1.9 million people currently displaced out of Gaza’s 2.2 million population.
Speaking to The Financial Times on Saturday, UNRWA’s chief said that Israel has not presented evidence over its allegations against the agency and Israeli media leaks of an intelligence assessment forced them to respond to the claims.
The FT also found no evidence for Israel’s allegations after looking at a copy of the intelligence assessment. Israel had said it based its information on smartphone intercepts and captured identity cards, which its close ally, the U.S., found as “highly, highly credible.”
The former U.S. Donald Trump administration in 2018 withheld $65 million from the annual aid to UNRWA which totalled $365 million, before Joe Biden resumed aid in April 2021.
Lazzarini stressed that UNRWA provides Israel with an annual list of its employees and received no complaints about them throughout his four years in office.
“Are we paying the price for having been vocal in drawing attention about the plight of the people in Gaza, of this humanitarian disaster, unfolding on our watch? Maybe this might have contributed to accelerate or amplify the criticism,” Lazzarini told the FT.
On Monday, Lazzarini tasked an independent Review Group to assess UNRWA’s operations and efforts in response to the “allegations of serious breaches when they are made.”
Catherine Colonna, France’s former foreign minister, will work with three research organisations including the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden, the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Norway; and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.
Their work is set to commence on February 14 and they will submit an interim report on their findings to Lazzarini by late March. The final report would likely be completed the following month and publicly shared.
UNRWA has been targeted by Israel for years as the agency recognises Palestinians’ rights after its establishment in 1949 in light of the forced dispossession of Palestinians by Israel to make way for illegal Jewish settlers.
Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, was even quick to celebrate the countries’ decision to halt UNRWA’s aid despite having no evidence.
In a post on X at the time, Katz said: “We have been warning for years that UNRWA perpetuates the refugee issue.”
The claims even came on the day the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an interim ruling on South Africa’s case on January 26 that pointed to Israel committing genocide in Gaza.
The provisions included the prevention of incitement to commit genocide and allowing more humanitarian aid into Gaza. The court also ordered Israel to submit a report to the ICJ within a month of all measures taken in accordance with the measures.
In a statement on january 29, Amnesty International described the decision to halt funding for UNRWA as “deeply shocking” and “indeed inhumane.”
“The allegations over the involvement of UNRWA staff in the 7 October attacks are serious and must be independently investigated[…]but the alleged actions of a few individuals must not be used as a pretext for cutting off life-saving assistance in what could amount to collective punishment,” Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said at the time.