Temporary aid suspension for Gaza raises concern

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(VOVWORLD) - Some Western countries have temporarily suspended funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), raising deep concern about the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. 
Temporary aid suspension for Gaza raises concern - ảnh 1People wait for aid from UNRWA in the Near East during a cease fire between Hamas and Israel in Khan Younis, north of the Gaza strip on November 29, 2023. (Photo: Reuters)

Austria’s Foreign Ministry on Monday announced it will temporarily suspend all aid for UNRWA, becoming the latest of nine countries, including the US, Germany, and Italy, to do so.

Accusations from Israel

The suspension of aid is in response to the Israeli government accusing 12 UNRWA employees of being involved in the October 7 Hamas attack that killed more than 1,200 Israeli civilians and soldiers, the event that ignited the current conflict in Gaza. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz urged Israel's allies to suspend funding for UNRWA and called for replacing UNRWA with other agencies.

Israel’s accusation immediately stirred an international controversy. The US, Israel's biggest ally, called for a comprehensive investigation and funding suspension, and did not rule out additional measures depending on the investigation results.

“We have suspended our contributions to UNRWA pending the results of this investigation,” US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said on Monday.

Germany also expressed deep concern about the accusation and welcomed an investigation. Some countries, including Germany, are leaving open the possibility of resuming aid following the investigation.

Meanwhile, many Arab countries, who do not oppose an independent and transparent international investigation, have criticized the immediate suspension of aid as a hasty overreaction.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said: “We were surprised by the strong reaction to the accusations against UNRWA’s staff. Similar statements were not used to talk about the deaths of more than 26,000 innocent civilians in Gaza, most of whom were women and children.”

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said the current UNRWA crisis doesn’t obscure the fact that international humanitarian law has not been fully implemented in the Gaza Strip. Saudi Arabia called on the international community to work together to resolve the current situation related to UNRWA.

Temporary aid suspension for Gaza raises concern - ảnh 2Palestinian refugees receive food aid from UNRWA in the Gaza strip on January 28, 2024. (Photo: AFP)

Worsening famine in Gaza

Observers worry that the famine in Gaza will worsen. Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said children will be the primary victims of the current controversy, and called on countries not to starve the children in Gaza because of the sins of a few people.

UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini said the suspension of funding is a "collective punishment" of Gaza residents. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said UNRWA has identified nine of the 12 people believed to be involved in the case and immediately fired them. One is confirmed dead, and the identities of the other two are being determined.

Guterres said the UN will carry out a full investigation, and insisted that suspending aid puts 2 million Gaza residents and tens of thousands of UNRWA staff in danger.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh emphasized the need to wait for the result of the investigation and called on countries to resume aid.

“The suspension of aid comes at the most difficult time, the time when the International Court of Justice has called for an immediate supply and increase of international aid for Gaza and for 1.7 million people in Gaza.”

UNRWA figures show that the countries that have paused funding donated 70% of UNRWA's budget last year. Without their funding UNRWA could collapse at any moment.

Since the conflict began, UNRWA has helped about two-thirds of Gaza's 2.3 million residents and played a key role in aid efforts there.

The UN Food Program reported on January 23 that more than half a million people in Gaza are facing serious food shortages and the threat of famine is increasing day by day.