Hamas studies new ceasefire proposal, UN says UNRWA cannot be replaced - as it happened

Ahram Online , Tuesday 30 Jan 2024

The Israeli occupation army was preparing to shift some of its forces from Gaza to the restive Lebanese border, as international mediators pushed for a new deal to halt its war on the Strip. With Gazans already facing dire humanitarian conditions, the United Nations chief was set to meet on Tuesday with key donors who paused funding after members of the UN's Palestinian refugee agency were accused of taking part in the October 7 attack.

Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel. Photo: AP


Fears of a widening regional conflict were compounded after Israel's top ally Washington vowed to respond to an attack that killed three US troops in Jordan.

Israeli ground forces backed by tanks have been focused on Khan Younis where the Palestine Red Crescent Society reported artillery fire around the Al-Amal Hospital overnight.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said late Monday that some units in Gaza were "moving up to the north and preparing for what's to come" a reference to the Israeli-Lebanese border, where there have been almost daily exchanges of fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters aligned with Hamas.

22:45 The U.S. State Department says it expects to resume funding the embattled U.N. agency serving Palestinian refugees provided it conducts a credible investigation into possible links between some of its employees and the Hamas group.

The U.S. and more than a dozen other countries suspended contributions to UNRWA after Israel alleged that 12 of the agency’s workers had participated in the 7 Oct. offensive.

UNRWA immediately fired most of the workers, and the United Nations has vowed to investigate. But U.N. officials have warned that UNRWA will have to halt operations by the end of February if funding is not restored.

UNRWA is the biggest aid provider in Gaza, where Israel’s war against Hamas has displaced the vast majority of the population and plunged it into a humanitarian catastrophe. The U.S. is the largest single donor, giving over $300 million, or one-quarter of the agency’s annual budget.

State Department Matthew Miller said Tuesday that the U.S. had planned to send about $300,000 in the coming weeks but gave no details on when funding might be restored.

Israel has long claimed that Hamas uses UNRWA facilities to store weapons or launch attacks, and that agency employees teach hatred of Israel in their schools. UNRWA says it does not knowingly tolerate such behavior and has internal safeguards to prevent abuses and discipline wrongdoing.

21:45 UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres prepared to meet donors to UNRWA on Tuesday after several countries including the US, UK, Germany and Japan, suspended funding to the Palestinian aid agency.

"It is a lifeline for civilians in Gaza," says France 24 correspondent Jessica Le Masurier. "And it employs 13,000 people in the Palestinian enclave." 

21:00 Israel on Tuesday accused the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, of letting the militant group Hamas use its infrastructure in the Gaza Strip for military activity.

"UNRWA is a front for Hamas. It has been fundamentally compromised in three main ways: hiring terrorists on a massive scale, letting its infrastructure be used for Hamas military activity and relying on Hamas for aid distribution in the Gaza Strip," government spokesman Eylon Levy said in a video statement.

20:30 No organization can "replace or substitute" the United Nations' Palestinian refugee agency, employees of which were accused of being involved in the October 7 attacks on Israel, the UN's coordinator for Gaza aid said on Tuesday.

"There is no way that any organization can replace or substitute (the) tremendous capacity, the fabric of UNRWA – (their) ability and their knowledge of the population in Gaza," said the recently appointed coordinator, Sigrid Kaag, referring to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

20:00 The UN Security Council expressed concern on Tuesday about the "dire and rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation" in the Gaza Strip and urged all parties to work with senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza, Sigrid Kaag.

The statement by the 15-member council came after Kaag briefed the body behind closed doors for the first time since she was appointed about a month ago.

19:00 Israel has destroyed some Hamas tunnels in Gaza by flooding them, the military said on Tuesday.

"During the war, the IDF has implemented new capabilities to neutralise underground terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip by channelling large volumes of water into the tunnels," the military said in a statement.

18:15 US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he has decided how to respond to a drone attack that killed US service members in Jordan, but did not elaborate.

Biden, speaking to reporters as he left the White House on a campaign trip to Florida, also said the United States does not need a wider war in the Middle East.

17:45 Israeli forces have stormed Al-Amal hospital in Gaza's Khan Younis, asking displaced people and crew to evacuate at gunpoint, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

16:45 Yemen's Houthis are ready for a "long-term confrontation" with the US and UK, commander of the Houthi forces Mohamed al-Atifi said in a statement on Tuesday.

"(...) We are prepared for a long-term confrontation with the forces of tyranny. The Americans, the British, and those who coordinated with them must realise the power of the sovereign Yemeni decision and that there is no debate or dispute over it," he said.

16:15 Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad will not engage in any agreements regarding Israeli captives without ensuring a comprehensive ceasefire and the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip, the group's Secretary General Ziad al-Nakhala said in a statement on Tuesday.

15:30 Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israel would not withdraw forces from the Gaza Strip or free thousands of Palestinian security prisoners, pushing back against media reports on some conditions of a possible truce deal with Hamas.

In remarks aired by Israeli TV, Netanyahu added: "We will not end this war short of achieving all of its objectives. That means eliminating Hamas, returning all of our hostages and ensuring that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel."

14:00 Aid groups condemned the decision by several countries to suspend funding for the UN Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA), pointing to a "worsening humanitarian catastrophe" and "looming famine" in Gaza.

The two dozen top charities, including Oxfam and Save the Children, stressed the United Nations Relief and Works Agency was the main provider of aid to millions of Palestinians in Gaza and the wider Middle East.

"The suspension of funding by donor states will impact life-saving assistance for over two million civilians, over half of whom are children," the NGOs said in a joint statement.

"The population faces starvation, looming famine and an outbreak of disease under Israel's continued indiscriminate bombardment and deliberate deprivation of aid in Gaza."

A total of 152 UNRWA staff had already been killed and 145 of the UN agency's facilities had been damaged by bombardment, according to the statement, issued in English by the Norwegian Refugee Council, on behalf of the aid groups.

"If the funding suspensions are not reversed, we may see a complete collapse of the already restricted humanitarian response in Gaza," they said.

The NGOs said more than a million displaced Palestinians were taking shelter in or around 154 UNRWA shelters, stressing that the agency has been working in "near impossible circumstances."

"Countries must reverse these funding suspensions, uphold their duties towards the Palestinian people and scale up humanitarian assistance for civilians in dire need in Gaza and the region."

On Friday, the UN's top court said Israel must prevent genocide in its war on Gaza and allow aid into the besieged Palestinian territory, but stopped short of calling for an end to the fighting.

On Saturday, Israel said it would seek to stop UNRWA from operating in Gaza after the war.

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the row over funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees was distracting from the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.

12:40 The health ministry in Gaza said at least 26,751 people have been killed in the Palestinian territory during the Israeli war on Gaza.

A ministry statement said another 65,636 people have been wounded since October 7 when the war broke out.

10:30 More details have emerged of the raid in a West Bank hospital, in which three alleged Palestinian fighters were killed, with Israeli and Palestinian sources saying the operation was carried out by commandos disguised as civilians and staff, France 24 reported.

Sources from inside Jenin's Ibn Sina Hospital, quoted by Palestinian news agency WAFA, said an Israeli special forces unit infiltrated the hospital, disguised as nurses and civilians, before heading to the third floor and killing three young men using silenced pistols.

CCTV circulated online appeared to show around a dozen undercover troops, including three in women's garb and two dressed as medical staff, pacing through a hospital corridor with rifles. Israel's police minister reposted the clip on X.

Israel's border police confirmed the three Palestinians were killed in an operation by the forces' undercover unit.

Hamas claimed one of the dead in Ibn Sina Hospital as its member. The allied faction Islamic Jihad claimed the other two, saying they were brothers. Ibn Sina said one of the brothers had been receiving treatment for an injury that paralyzed his legs.

The Israeli military identified one of the men as Mohammed Jalamneh, 27, from Jenin, who it said had contacts with Hamas headquarters abroad and was planning "a raid attack inspired by the October 7th massacre."



10:15 China warned against a "cycle of retaliation" in the Middle East after the United States vowed to respond to a drone attack on a base in Jordan that killed three American troops, which it blamed on Iran-backed militants.

Iran has said it had nothing to do with the attack and denied US accusations it supported militant groups behind Sunday's strike on the remote frontier base in Jordan's northeast, near the borders with Iraq and Syria.

Beijing said on Tuesday it had "noted reports of casualties caused by the attack on a US military base."

"We have also noted that Iran stated that it had nothing to do with the attack," Wang Wenbin, foreign ministry spokesperson, said.

"We hope that all relevant parties will remain calm and restrained ... in order to avoid falling into a vicious cycle of retaliation and prevent further escalation of regional tension," he added.

"The situation in the Middle East is currently highly complex and sensitive," Wang said.

09:00 Israeli forces shot dead three Palestinians at a West Bank hospital early Tuesday, the Palestinian health ministry said.

"This morning three young men were martyred by the bullets of the occupation (Israel) forces, who stormed the Ibn Sina Hospital in Jenin and shot them," the health ministry in Ramallah said. The Israeli occupation army said troops "neutralized" the men who were hiding in the hospital.

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