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UN Chief Urges Resumption of Funding for Palestinian Aid 

FILE - Palestinians receive sacks of flour distributed by the U.N.’s Palestinian relief agency UNRWA, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 21, 2023.
FILE - Palestinians receive sacks of flour distributed by the U.N.’s Palestinian relief agency UNRWA, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 21, 2023.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Sunday for the United States and other countries to immediately restart funding for the U.N.’s Palestinian relief agency, saying Gaza’s displaced people desperately needed the assistance even while the U.N. investigates the role a dozen aid workers allegedly played in October’s Hamas attack on Israel.

Guterres warned that without adequate funding for the U.N.’s relief and works agency, aid for more than 2 million Palestinians in Gaza would be scaled back as soon as Thursday, February 1. The U.S. is among nine countries that stopped paying for the agency’s $1.6 billion annual budget when the 12 Palestinian relief workers were identified last week as helping carry out the militants’ shock assault that killed 1,200 people.

"The abhorrent alleged acts of these staff members must have consequences," Guterres said in a statement, and that they could face criminal prosecution. Nine of the aid workers were immediately fired, one was confirmed dead and officials are clarifying the identity of two others.

Still, Guterres added, “The tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA, many in some of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be penalized. The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met."

Watch related report by Veronica Balderas Iglesias:

Concerns of Gaza Famine as Countries Suspend Funding to UNRWA
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Israel immediately rebuked Guterres for calling for the resumption in Palestinian assistance. Gilad Erdan, the Jewish state’s ambassador to the U.N., said that Guterres “has proven once again that the security of the citizens of Israel is not really important for him.”

“After years in which he ignored the evidence presented to him personally about UNRWA's support and involvement in incitement and terrorism, and before he conducted a comprehensive investigation to locate all Hamas terrorists in UNRWA, he called to fund an organization that is deeply contaminated with terrorism,” Erdan said.

Hamas has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States, United Kingdom, European Union and others.

“Every country that continues to fund UNRWA before a comprehensive investigation of the organization should know that its money might be used for terrorism, and the aid that will be transferred to UNRWA may reach the Hamas terrorists instead of the people of Gaza,” Erdan concluded.

The U.N. agency provides basic services, including medical care and education, for Palestinian families who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding the country's creation. They now live in built-up refugee camps in Gaza, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

The U.S. is the relief agency’s biggest financial supporter. But together, the nine countries that stopped paying for the relief work provide nearly 60% of UNWRA’s funding. In addition to the U.S., they are Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Displaced Palestinians receive food aid at an UNRWA distribution center in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Jan. 28, 2024.
Displaced Palestinians receive food aid at an UNRWA distribution center in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Jan. 28, 2024.

The dispute over Palestinian relief funding came as two senior U.S. officials said negotiators were reported to be closing in on a cease-fire agreement that would halt the Israel-Hamas fighting for two months and lead to the release of the remaining 100 or so hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

The emerging terms of the deal would call for the release of the remaining women, elderly and wounded hostages in a first 30-day phase, but details on the release of men were not clear. The pending deal also calls for Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns was meeting Sunday in Paris with David Barnea, the head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel to discuss the possible cease-fire.

More than 100 hostages were released in late November during a week-long cease-fire in exchange for 240 Palestinians jailed by Israel. But since then, fighting has been non-stop and no more hostages have been freed.

The Israeli counteroffensive after the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, destroyed vast swaths of Gaza and displaced nearly 85% of the territory's people.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defiantly declared Saturday that Israel will "decide and act according to what is required for [its] security," his response to the International Court of Justice rebuke of Israel regarding the extent of death and destruction in Gaza.

Since the ruling Friday, Israel's military has come under increasing scrutiny to comply with the court’s report. In a majority ruling of at least 15 out of 17 judges, the court ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide against the Palestinians and do more to help civilians.

The court's binding ruling, however, stopped short of ordering a cease-fire.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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