Guterres says UNRWA is backbone of all responses in Gaza as humanitarian situation worsens - as it happened

Ahram Online , Wednesday 31 Jan 2024

The UN continued to warn of the potential "collapse of the humanitarian system" in the Gaza Strip after some Western countries suspended funding to the UNRWA per wild Israeli allegations against the Palestinian refugee agency.

Hazmat suits
Hazmat suits that are left over from coronavirus pandemic, are worn by displaced Palestinian children to keep warm, as they gather at a makeshift camp set up on the beach in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on January 31, 2024. AFP


22:45 The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees said on Wednesday that it is "extremely important" to conduct an independent investigation into Israeli allegations that 12 of its employees were involved in the October 7 Hamas operation against Israeli targets.

Important donors -- among them Britain, Germany, Japan and the United States -- have announced their suspension of aid to UNRWA following Israel's allegations.

Norway, one of the few major donors to have maintained aid to the embattled UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, warned other donors Wednesday of the consequences of suspending funding,  according to Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide.

"We have 33,000 people... so it is extremely important for us to really have an independent investigation into these specific individual cases that Israel brought to our attention," UNRWA spokesperson Tamara Alrifai told AFP.

"We received allegations from the Israeli government over 12 names in Gaza, we had to check those names against our records of 13,000 staff in Gaza, and we were able to match eight of these names," Alrifai said.

UNRWA, which provides aid to around two million people in Gaza, announced that it had fired most of the accused employees.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called his organization's Palestinian refugee agency the "backbone" of Gaza aid on Wednesday.

"Yesterday, I met with donors to listen to their concerns and to outline the steps we are taking to address them... UNRWA is the backbone of all humanitarian response in Gaza," Guterres told a UN committee on Palestinian rights.

The World Health Organization's emergencies director Michael Ryan said on Wednesday that the population of Gaza is starving to death due to constraints imposed on humanitarian aid.

"This is a population that is starving to death, this is a population that is being pushed to the brink and they are not parties to this conflict... and they should be protected, as should be their health facilities," Ryan told a press conference.

22:30 American forces destroyed a missile belonging to Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels on Wednesday that posed an "imminent threat" to US aircraft, the military said.

The United States has carried out strikes on the Huthis both unilaterally and jointly with Britain, but previous air raids were focused on reducing the rebels' ability to target international shipping rather than addressing a danger to aircraft.

US forces "struck and destroyed a Huthi surface-to-air missile that was prepared to launch" after determining that it "presented an imminent threat to US aircraft," US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement.

CENTCOM did not identify the type of aircraft that were threatened or the exact location of the strike, only saying that it took place in "Huthi-controlled areas of Yemen."

Houthi-run Al-Masirah television had earlier said US and UK aircraft had targeted the northern city of Saada but did not identify the specific target or provide information on damage or casualties.

The rebels began targeting Red Sea shipping in November, saying they were hitting Israeli-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza, which has been ravaged by the Israel war on the strip.

US and UK forces have responded with strikes on the Houthis, who have since declared American and British interests to be legitimate targets as well

22:00  Egypt's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry stressed on Wednesday that Israel should implement the temporary measures imposed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to ensure that the urgent needs of the residents of the Gaza Strip are met immediately.

In a meeting with David M. Satterfield, US Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues, Shoukry discussed with Satterfield the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza and the destruction of the Strip's infrastructure, service systems, and hospitals.

According to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry's Spokesperson, Ahmed Abu Zeid, the two officials exchanged assessments regarding the efforts to ensure the sufficient and sustainable entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza in collaboration with the UN relief agencies.

During the meeting, Shoukry pointed out the recent decision of several countries to suspend funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) amid the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, stressing the adverse impact of such suspension on the agency’s ability to continue providing vital services to the Palestinians according to its UN mandate.

Hence, he urged the US side and the donor countries that suspended their funding to rescind their decision to avoid exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza while stressing the importance of waiting for the results of the internal investigation process undertaken by UNRWA and relevant UN bodies.

21:00 Israeli airstrikes across the Gaza Strip on Wednesday left tens dead and injured in Rafah, Khan Younis and Gaza City.

On Wednesday evening, Israeli soldiers stormed the premises of Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis, one of the few remaining functioning medical facilities in the strip, after days of bombardment in the vicinity of the hospital

The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that Israeli tanks took position opposite the ER unit after opening fire all around.

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / TOPSHOT - Palestinians mourn over the body of a loved one, at the Ahli Arabi hospital in Gaza City, on January 31, 2024. AFP

20:00 Hamas is reviewing plans for a three-stage truce with Israel which foresee a weeks-long halt to the Israeli war on Gaza, a source in the Palestinian group told AFP on Wednesday.

Hamas said earlier this week it was mulling proposals drawn up by mediators in Paris for a second truce nearly four months after the war began.

While a November pause to the fighting lasted a week, the latest accord aims to pave the way for an initial six-week halt to the fighting.

Over that period Israel will release between 200 and 300 Palestinian prisoners who are not deemed high-security detainees, in exchange for 35 to 40 captives held in Gaza, the Hamas source close to Egyptian and Qatari mediators said.

Only "women, children and sick men over 60" who are captive in Gaza will be freed at this stage, the Hamas source told AFP, declining to be named given the sensitivity of the issue.

19:00 The Israeli army announced that two officers and two soldiers were killed and 10 others injured in fierce battles in Gaza in the last 24 hours.

This brings the number of Israeli soldiers who were announced by the army as killed in battles since the start of the ground operations in Gaza in late October close to 230.

18:00 United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called his organization's Palestinian refugee agency the "backbone" of Gaza aid on Wednesday after several countries suspended funding over Israeli claims 12 UNRWA staffers participated in the 7 October Al-Aqsa Flood operation.

"Yesterday, I met with donors to listen to their concerns and to outline the steps we are taking to address them... UNRWA is the backbone of all humanitarian response in Gaza," Guterres told a UN committee on Palestinian rights.

The population of Gaza is starving to death due to constraints imposed on humanitarian aid, the World Health Organization's emergencies director Michael Ryan said on Wednesday.

"This is a population that is starving to death, this is a population that is being pushed to the brink and they are not parties to this conflict... and they should be protected, as should be their health facilities," Ryan told a press conference.

17:00 Cutting off funding to the United Nations' Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA will have "catastrophic consequences" for Gaza, the heads of multiple UN bodies said in a joint statement Wednesday.

"Withdrawing funds from UNRWA is perilous and would result in the collapse of the humanitarian system in Gaza, with far-reaching humanitarian and human rights consequences in the occupied Palestinian territory and across the region," said the statement from heads of organisations that form the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee

15:00 On Tuesday, hundreds of high school students across Chicago walked out of their schools Tuesday to call for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza war. 

The walkouts were meant to be “pro-peace and pro-humanity,” said the high school senior who led the planning of the protest.

Meanwhile, in tandem, tens of students held a protest inside the Chicago City Council demanding an immediate ceasefire.

The protesters chanted  "Free Free Palestine" and "Biden Biden You Can't Hide - You're Supporting Genocide."



Despite growing opposition in the US to the Israeli war on Gaza, the Biden administration has continued to support Tel Aviv politically and militarily in its aggression on the strip.

Earlier this week, a federal court in Oakland California began hearing a lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights which asks the courts to stop President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Austin from continuing to provide weapons, military funding, and diplomatic support to Israel.

A graffiti made by street artist Itaewon, depicting Palestinian citizen journalist, Doaa Mohamed, in east London, on January 30, 2024 as part of a project launched by the art platform Creative Debuts called "Heroes of Palestine". AFP

14:00 The Palestinian Prisoner’s Society (PPS) said the Israeli occupation forces executed 30 Palestinians from Beit Lahia, north of the Gaza Strip, after finding their bodies inside a school that was besieged by occupation tanks.

PPS reported that the Israeli forces tightly have handcuffed and blindfolded the detainees after stripping them of their clothes, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA.

The Israeli occupation forces have been escalating their field executions and kidnapping of Palestinians as a result of the ongoing Israeli aggression on Gaza, PPS said in a statement.

It also reported that there is an increase in the horrific testimonies from detainees, including children and women, who were subjected to various forms of maltreatment, including physical and psychological abuse during their arrest by Israel's occupation forces.

13:30 The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reiterated its criticism of the Israeli authorities for hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid to the north of the Gaza Strip.

“Between 1 and 25 January, 51 missions to deliver humanitarian aid were planned for the north of Wadi Gaza; however, only eight were facilitated by the Israeli military, while 29 were denied access. Most of the missions that facilitated access were related to food distribution, while those intended to support critical hospitals and Water, Hygiene, and Sanitation (WASH) facilitates were largely denied access,” OCHA said in its latest report on the situation in Gaza.

“In an emerging pattern, the access of an additional eight planned missions was initially facilitated but subsequently impeded as routes designated by the Israeli military proved to be unpassable, or the imposition of excessive delays prior to the departure of the missions or at checkpoints en route,” the UN body added.

12:30 Iran has threatened to “decisively respond” to any US attack following President Joe Biden's linking of Tehran to the killing of three US soldiers at a military base in Jordan.

“Sometimes, our enemies raise the threat and nowadays we hear some threats in between words by American officials," Revolutionary Guard commander General Hossein Salami said at an event. 

"We tell them that you have experienced us and we know each other. We do not leave any threat without an answer,” he added, according to IRNA.

The Iranian warnings first came from Amir Saeid Iravani, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations in New York.

“The Islamic Republic would decisively respond to any attack on the country, its interests, and nationals under any pretexts,” IRNA quoted Iravani as saying on Tuesday. He described any possible Iranian retaliation as a “strong response,” without elaborating.

US president said on Tuesday he had decided on a response to the drone strike in Jordan while insisting he did not want a wider war in the Middle East.

12:15 The Israeli artillery targeted Al-Awda Hospital in Jabalia in northern Gaza, while heavy bombardment and fierce fighting are continuing in the south and the center of the strip.

The day before, Palestinian Red Crescent said the Israeli forces raided the Al-Amal Hospital in the south Gaza city of Khan Younis, where about 7,000 displaced people were sheltering.

In a post on X, the group said the Israeli tanks were lined up outside the front of the hospital, firing live ammunition and smoke grenades at people inside.

Israel’s occupation army says it continues to operate in the central and northern Gaza Strip and claims its forces are conducting targeted raids on Palestinian resistance groups' infrastructure and eliminating dozens of fighters.

12:00 The Palestinian health ministry said at least 26,900 people have been killed in the Israeli bombardment on Gaza since the war broke out on 7 October.

The latest toll includes 150 deaths over the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said, adding that 65,949 people have been wounded since the fighting began.

11:30 Norway is urging countries that have cut funding to the UNRWA agency to consider the consequences of their actions on the population of Gaza, Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide told Reuters.

“UNRWA is an important lifeline for about 1.5 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza,” Eide said.

On Sunday, Norway said it would maintain its funding to UNRWA despite allegations that some agency staff took part in Hamas’ 7 October operation.

10:55 The Israeli army announced the killing of 3 soldiers and the injury of 5 others in Gaza, bringing the death toll among military personnel to 560 since the start of the war on Gaza.

10:45 Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, said he was hopeful it could be decided later in the day which member state could lead the upcoming EU mission to protect vessels in the Red Sea, adding that the operation could be launched before mid-February, Reuters reported.

“We have to decide which country will take the command, where the headquarters will be, and what navy assets the member states will provide,” Borrell said before the start of an EU defense ministers meeting.

He said the operation will be named Aspides, “which means protector,” adding that 17 February was a possible launch date.

The EU already has one naval mission near the region, operation Atalanta, which works against piracy off the Horn of Africa. Some member states were reluctant to expand their mission to cover the Red Sea and counter Yemeni Houthi attacks, preferring to set up a new group, according to The Guardian.

This comes as Houthi rebels said on Wednesday they fired "several" missiles at the American destroyer USS Gravely in the Red Sea, hours after the US military reported shooting down a missile.

The Houthis have launched more than 30 attacks on commercial shipping and naval vessels since 19 November, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

10:30 The Israeli JPost revealed that what it said is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's strategic plan for Gaza's future.

It said stage one of the plan involves the creation of a comprehensive Israeli military government in Gaza to oversee humanitarian aid and assume responsibility for the civilian population during a "transition period."

Stage two will see the formation of an international Arab coalition, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and others. This coalition is to be part of a broader regional normalization agreement, backing the establishment of "the new Palestinian Authority."

According to JPost, officials, neither affiliated with Hamas nor directly associated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Abu Mazen, will take over Gaza's governance from Israel, concluding the military administration.

Israel will maintain the right to conduct security operations in Gaza, mirroring its operations in the West Bank, whenever operations are needed.

Should this stage proceed smoothly within a predefined two- to four-year timeline, Israel will recognize a delineated Palestinian state within the Palestinian Authority territories and consider transferring additional, non-settlement-requiring lands to that state.

10:00 Yemen's Houthi rebels said they fired "several" missiles at a US warship in the Red Sea, hours after the US military reported shooting down a missile.

"The naval forces of the Yemeni Armed Forces, with the help of God Almighty, fired several ... naval missiles at the American destroyer USS Gravely in the Red Sea," the Houthi statement said.

Earlier, US central command said the USS Gravely shot down a Houthi missile at about 11:30 pm (2030 GMT) on Tuesday the latest in a series of such incidents in the Red Sea.

"Iranian-backed Houthi militants fired one anti-ship cruise missile from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the Red Sea," a Centcom statement said.

"The missile was shot down by USS Gravely. There were no injuries or damage reported," it added.

09:30 The UN warned the humanitarian crisis in the besieged territory would only get worse if major donors did not restore funding to UNRWA, its main aid agency for Palestinians.

Sigrid Kaag, the UN's coordinator for Gaza aid, said Tuesday that no other agency could "replace or substitute" UNRWA, which has thousands of employees.

The heads of several UN agencies, including the WHO, the UN Rights Office, UNICEF, and the World Food Programme, later issued a statement warning that defunding UNRWA would "have catastrophic consequences for the people of Gaza."

Withholding the funds, they said, was "perilous and would result in the collapse of the humanitarian system in Gaza, with far-reaching humanitarian and human rights consequences."

Washington, which said it had given $131 million to UNRWA since October, stated that it "very much supported" the agency's work.

"We want to see that work continued, which is why it is so important that the United Nations take this matter seriously, that they investigate, that there is accountability for anyone who is found to have engaged in wrongdoing," said State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller.

09:00 The Israeli troops gave journalists a tour of a tunnel they claimed had been used as a Hamas command centre, AFP reported.

The Israeli military, which has dubbed the vast network of tunnels, "the Gaza metro," said Tuesday it had begun flooding the underground complexes with water in a bid to "neutralize the threat of Hamas' subterranean network."

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