UN chief asks donor countries for 'continuity' in Gaza agency operations- as it happened

AFP , Ahram Online , Sunday 28 Jan 2024

UN chief Antonio Guterres has pleaded for donor states to "guarantee the continuity" of the body's Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) after several halted funding over accusations of staff involvement in Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel.

Palestinians flee Israeli ground offensive in Kahn Younis, Gaza Strip. AP


"While I understand their concerns -- I was myself horrified by these accusations -- I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA's operations," Guterres said in a statement.

Israel has alleged several UNRWA staff were involved in Hamas's attack, leading a number of key donor countries to suspend their funding.

The agency has fired several staff over Israel's accusations, promising a thorough investigation into the claims, which were not specified.

Israel has meanwhile vowed to stop the agency's work in Gaza after the war.

The row between Israel and UNRWA follows the UN's International Court of Justice ruling on Friday that Israel must prevent possible acts of genocide in the war and allow more aid into Gaza.

"The abhorrent alleged acts of these staff members must have consequences," Guterres said.

"But 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," he added.

"The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met."

Guterres confirmed that 12 UNRWA employees were cited in the accusations, which the United Nations is investigating.

Nine have been fired, one is dead, and "the identity of the two others is being clarified", he said.

Several key donor countries to UNRWA have said they will temporarily suspend their current or future funding following the allegations, including the United States, Britain, Canada and Switzerland.




21:00 Israel said that the discussions in Paris, attended by the heads of its Mossad intelligence agency and Shin Bet security agency, had been "constructive".

But "there are still significant gaps which the parties will continue to discuss this week in additional mutual meetings," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said.

The head of the US Central Intelligence Agency as well as top Egyptian, Qatari and Israeli officials were in Paris on Sunday working towards a ceasefire in Gaza, officials close to the participants said.

French authorities were also in touch with these four countries with the aim of negotiating a halt to hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the besieged territory, the sources said.

A security source on Friday told AFP that CIA chief William Burns would meet his counterparts from Israel and Egypt, as well as Qatar's prime minister "in the coming days".

The source confirmed a report in The Washington Post last week that US President Joe Biden was sending Burns to try to negotiate the release of remaining Hamas-held Israeli hostages in exchange for a ceasefire.

The New York Times said on Saturday that US-led negotiators were getting closer to an agreement under which Israel would suspend its war in Gaza for about two months in return for the release of more than 100 hostages.

Quoting unidentified US officials, it said negotiators had developed a draft agreement that would be discussed in Paris on Sunday.

US President Joe Biden on Friday spoke with Qatar's emir to discuss efforts to free the hostages, the White House said, however warning "imminent developments" were unlikely.

19:45 A drone attack on a base in Jordan killed three American troops, with President Joe Biden blaming Iran-backed militants and vowing to hold the perpetrators to account.

It is the first time American military personnel have been killed by hostile fire in the Middle East since the start of the Israeli war on Gaza, and the incident will further raise tensions in the region and feed fears of a broader conflict directly involving Iran, the AFP reported.

"Three US service members were killed -- and many wounded -- during an unmanned aerial drone attack on our forces stationed in northeast Jordan near the Syria border," Biden said in a statement.

"While we are still gathering the facts of this attack, we know it was carried out by radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq," he said.

US and allied forces in Iraq and Syria have been targeted in more than 150 attacks since mid-October, according to the Pentagon, and Washington has carried out retaliatory strikes in both countries.

 17:40 Israeli protesters blocked humanitarian aid trucks from entering the war-torn Gaza Strip, forcing the lorries to turn around at a crossing with the Palestinian territory.

Hundreds gathered in the latest protest at the Karm Abu Salem crossing, despite the army saying in a statement it had declared the area "a closed military zone".

The demonstrators, some affiliated with relatives of captives held in Gaza, have assembled there for days to protest aid going to the territory that UN officials say is on the brink of catastrophe.

COGAT, an Israeli defense ministry body governing civilian affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories, said that the Karm Abu Salem crossing was closed Sunday due to "around 200" protesters demonstrating there.

The demonstrators oppose aid reaching Gaza until all Israeli captives held by Hamas and other Palestinian resistance groups are released, an AFP correspondent reported, adding some of the participants in the rally had their relatives held captive.

16:00 The head of the US Central Intelligence Agency as well as top Egyptian, Qatari and Israeli officials were communicating in Paris to seek a ceasefire in Gaza, AFP quoted officials close to the participants as saying.

French authorities were also in touch with these four countries with the aim of negotiating a halt to hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas ruling the territory, the sources said.


15:00 France said it was suspending funding to the UN Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA) after accusations of staff involvement in the 7 October operation.

"France has not planned a new payment for the first half of 2024 and will decide when the time comes of the action to take together with the United Nations and the main donors," the country’s foreign ministry said.


14:00 Jan Egeland, secretary of the Norwegian Refugee Council, has said that lifesaving aid in Gaza is being threatened by donors “recklessly suspending aid” to UNRWA.

“UNRWA has rightly terminated the contracts of those alleged to violate our neutrality principle,” he wrote on X.

“Donors, do not starve children for the sins of a few individual aid workers.”

On Saturday, Norway announced its rejection of cutting UNRWA funds by some Western countries, affirming that it will continue to support the Palestinian people through the UN body. “The situation for the people of Gaza is catastrophic, and UNRWA is the most important humanitarian organization in the Strip,” Espen Barth Eide, Norway’s foreign minister, told Al Jazeera.

13:00 The Israel army said its fighter jets carried out strikes on two Hezbollah sites in the southern Lebanon villages of Zibqin and Houla this morning.

It added that troops also shelled a number of areas in southern Lebanon with artillery.

Since the outbreak of the Israeli war on Gaza, the Lebanese-Israeli border has witnessed a near-daily exchange of fire between Israel's army and Lebanon's movement Hezbollah.

Israeli fire into south Lebanon has killed more than 200 people since the start of the war in Gaza, according to an AFP tally.

12:15 The Israeli military issued another evacuation order for residents of some of the neighbourhoods in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

“Residents in the neighbourhoods of Nassr and Al-Amal, along with those of the area’s refugee camp and city centre, must immediately leave,” Avichay Adraee, the Israeli army’s Arabic-language spokesperson, posted on X.

They were told to go to Al-Mawasi, which Israel claims is a safe zone despite being struck many times in recent days.

The war has displaced some 85 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, and one in four of them are starving, the UN says.

Designated evacuation areas have repeatedly come under Israeli airstrikes.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said that medical teams at the Al-Amal Hospital cannot perform surgical operations due to oxygen depletion.

On Saturday, the PRCS condemned the Israeli siege and targeting of Al-Amal Hospital for the sixth consecutive day.

11:25 After 114 days of fighting, as much as 80 percent of Hamas’s vast warren of tunnels under Gaza remains intact despite weeks of efforts to destroy them, WSJ reported citing US and Israeli officials.

Israel has sought various methods to clear the tunnels, including installing pumps to flood them with water from the Mediterranean, destroying them with airstrikes and liquid explosives, searching them with dogs and robots, destroying their entrances, and raiding them with highly trained soldiers.

However, the overall efforts have not been as effective as Israeli officials had hoped, US officials said.

Israel has units that specialize in clearing tunnels, but many of those troops are engineers trained to destroy them, not search for captives and top Hamas leaders, US officials said.

In addition, Israel’s primary war aims – killing or capturing top Hamas leaders and rescuing the roughly 100 remaining captives – is, at times, is at odds with the destruction of tunnels, officials added.

Some of the captives are being held in a command centre under Khan Younis, Israeli officials said. Hamas’s top leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, is hiding in the same location, according to a senior Israeli military official.

A raid on that command centre could endanger the captives, according to former Israeli officials and military analysts, a dilemma that amounts to a choice between targeting Sinwar and negotiating the release of some or all of the remaining captives.

11:00 The Palestinian Ministry of Health said that at least 26,422 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the war broke out on 7 October, while 65,087 have been wounded.

At least 165 people were killed over the previous 24 hours, the statement added.

10:30 The Arab League has decided to convene an extraordinary session at the level of permanent delegates on Sunday to issue a unified Arab position regarding the provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the case lodged by South Africa on the commission of genocide by Israel in Gaza Strip.

Speaking to Qatar News Agency (QNA) Saturday, Assistant Secretary-General at the Arab League Ambassador Hossam Zaki said that the meeting will be held at the headquarters of the Arab League in response to a bid submitted by the State of Palestine.

Permanent Representative of the State of Palestine to the Arab League Ambassador Muhannad Al-Aklouk said that the State of Palestine requested this convention in coordination with Morocco in its capacity as president of the 160th session of the Arab League.

10:00 At least nine Palestinians were killed and several others injured this morning in a series of Israeli air and artillery strikes on Gaza City and Khan Younis in the besieged Gaza Strip, Palestinian news agency WAFA reported.

According to sources, the Israeli army committed 18 massacres in the Gaza Strip yesterday, killing 174 people and injuring 310 in the past 24 hours.

9:00 US negotiators are making progress on a potential agreement under which Israel would pause military operations against in Gaza for two months in exchange for the release of more than 100 captives who were captured in the October 7 attack on Israel, according to two senior administration officials.

The officials, who requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive discussions, said that emerging terms of the yet-to-be-sealed deal would play out over two phases.


Short link: