Qatar’s Prime Minister emphasises the vital role of UNRWA in assisting Palestinians across the region during a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York.
Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani underlined the importance of the role of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA during a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York on Saturday.
Sheikh Mohammed, who is also Qatar’s foreign minister, highlighted during the meeting UNRWA’s key role “in assisting millions in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon” 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.
The move came despite a lack of evidence and at a critical time, where Gaza’s 2.2 million population are living under a genocide coupled with a complete Israeli air, land and sea blockade.
Speaking to Guterres, Qatar’s prime minister “warned of the disastrous repercussions that could result from stopping” funding UNRWA, the Gulf state’s foreign ministry said in a readout of the meeting.
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.
“[Sheikh Mohammed] also called for separating the agency as an international institution with well-established values and traditions from the allegations against a number of its employees who are under investigation,” the statement added.
UNRWA was established in 1949 in light of the forced dispossession of Palestinians by Israel to make way for illegal Jewish settlers. The agency has since supported refugees across the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.
The agency 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. The agency is now grappling with a worsening humanitarian catastrophe and is barely able to provide sufficient aid to more than 1.9 Palestinians.
In a statement on Thursday, UNRWA said Gaza’s crisis is only deepening for the Strip’s population with more than one million living in fragile tents, barely able to survive under the harsh winter season.
“I echo the call of the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to resume funding to UNRWA. If the funding remains suspended, we will most likely be forced to shut down our operations by the end of February not only in Gaza but also across the region,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said.
Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza has neared four months, with at least 27,238 Palestinians killed and 66,452 others wounded. The dire humanitarian situation worsened with Palestinians being forced to flee multiple times.
At least 101 UNRWA humanitarian workers were also killed by Israel’s attacks since 7 October – marking the highest number of UN workers killed in any conflict in the world.
Mass displacements have been occurring since last month with Israel forcing Palestinians out of Khan Younis in the south to Rafah, closer to the Egyptian border where at least 1.4 million people are already crammed up.
Israeli military chief Yoav Gallant said on Thursday that Israel will expand its ground invasion to Rafah, a move that will eventually leave Palestinians nowhere to go other than neighbouring Egypt where the borders have been closed and entry is heavily restricted.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned on Saturday that Israel is pushing at least one million Palestinians towards the Egyptian border, saying the war placed the Middle East in a critical situation.
“There are one million people in the South [of Gaza] that have been displaced progressively against the Egyptian border. They claimed that they were safe zones, but in fact, what we see is that the bombing affecting the civilian population continues and is creating a very dire situation,” Borrell told reporters in Brussels.
Borrell was referring to the expansion of Israel’s ground invasion in Gaza, which started in the north before reaching the south.
Israel had forced Palestinians to flee from the north and head to the south on October 12, 2023 when it raided the Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza, where tens of thousands were sheltering and receiving treatment.