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War on Gaza: Netanyahu says Unrwa mission 'must be terminated'

Prime minister's comments follow Israel's claim that 12 of Unrwa’s 30,000 staff members were involved in Hamas-led 7 October attack
A man collects trash while wearing a jacket bearing the Unrwa logo along a street in city of Jenin in occupied Palestine, on 30 January 2024 (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa) needs to be shut down.

"It's time for the international community and the UN itself to understand that Unrwa's mission must be terminated," Netanyahu told visiting UN delegates, according to a statement from his office.

"It seeks to preserve the issue of Palestinian refugees. We must replace Unrwa with other UN agencies and other aid agencies, if we want to solve the Gaza problem as we plan to do."

Thomas White, the director of Unrwa affairs in Gaza, said on Wednesday that his staff was forced to flee Khan Younis because of intense fighting over the past week.

"We've lost a health clinic, major shelters- facilities that were supporting the people of Khan Younis," White said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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Earlier this week, several countries, including the US and the UK, suspended their funding to Unrwa. 

This decision, which has been met with criticism from around the world and from Palestinian representatives, followed Israel's claim that 12 of Unrwa’s 30,000 staff members were involved in the Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on 7 October.

War on Gaza: Palestinian officials denounce US and UK decision to pause Unrwa funding
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Washington announced that it would pause funding to the agency until the allegations were addressed.

"The Department of State has temporarily paused additional funding for Unrwa while we review these allegations and the steps the United Nations is taking to address them," US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

On Wednesday, the heads of UN agencies and NGOs signed a joint statement calling on countries to reconsider pausing funds to Unrwa.

"Any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable," the heads of the UN agencies wrote in a statement on Tuesday. 

"However, we must not prevent an entire organisation from delivering on its mandate to serve people in desperate need."

They said that the pausing of funds would have "catastrophic consequences" in Gaza, and urged countries to reconsider. 

The letter was signed by Martin Griffiths, under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs (Ocha); World Food Programme head Cindy McCain; and World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, among several others. 

On Monday, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, accused countries defunding the agency of engaging in the “collective punishment” of Palestinians. 

Fakhri posted on X, that in the Gaza Strip, “famine was imminent” and now “inevitable” as a result of the decision to suspend funding.

Unrwa is the second-largest employer in Gaza, with Hamas being in first place. Unrwa has 30,000 employees in total, 13,000 of whom are in the Gaza Strip. 

The agency works to provide healthcare, education and humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. 

Israelis support blocking aid to Gaza

A new Israeli public opinion poll published on Tuesday suggests a majority of Israelis support the complete suspension of aid entering Gaza until the remaining captives taken back to Gaza on 7 October are returned. 

The poll, commissioned by Israeli outlet News12, asked participants whether humanitarian aid to Gaza should be halted until the captives are returned to Israel.

Seventy-two percent said aid should be halted, 21 percent said that it should not stop, and seven percent said they didn’t know. 

The results of the poll come a day after a video circulated on social media showed Israeli reservists telling Israel’s minister of defence, Yoav Gallant, to “not be afraid of occupation” and that there should be “no aid to Gaza”.

Last week, Israeli protesters, including relatives of those taken captive to Gaza on 7 October, blocked emergency aid from reaching the enclave through the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Reports in Israeli media said the protesters had been picketing the humanitarian trucks going into Gaza, demanding that aid be cut off until the remaining captives are released. 

The group of protesters made their way through a roadblock, walking several kilometres toward the crossing. The protesters have been urging the government to prohibit any humanitarian aid from reaching Gaza.

They held up over 100 trucks, some of which were eventually diverted and forced to find an alternative entry point in Egypt, delaying the aid further and forcing it to go through further checks. 

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