UNRWA chief issues warning amid budget cuts - as it happened

Ahram Online , Saturday 27 Jan 2024

Thousands of civilians were trapped in southern Gaza as Israel continued its bloody war on the Strip on Saturday, a day after the top UN court ruled Israel must prevent genocidal acts.

People demonstrate in support of the people from Gaza, in the Palestinian territories, in front of the City Hall in Madrid on January 27, 2024. AFP

22:40 Philippe Lazzarini, the Chief of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), has issued a grave warning, stating that the lifesaving assistance provided by the agency is on the verge of ending due to funding cuts by various countries.

Lazzarini expressed shock and dismay at the decisions made, which are based on the alleged behaviour of a few individuals, and stressed the deepening needs and the looming threat of famine amidst the ongoing conflict.

The UNRWA plays a crucial role in providing humanitarian aid and support to 2 million people in Gaza, serving as a lifeline for the already vulnerable population.

However, with funding cuts implemented by some countries, the agency's ability to deliver essential services and assistance is being severely compromised.

 As the war continues in Gaza, the situation on the ground is worsening, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. The UNRWA chief warned that this additional collective punishment inflicted on the people of Gaza stains the international community as a whole.

The consequences of the funding cuts are dire, with the UNRWA's humanitarian operation on the brink of collapse.

The services and support that millions of Palestinians in Gaza rely on for their basic needs, including food, healthcare, and education, are at risk of being discontinued.

The reduction in aid comes at a time when the needs in Gaza are deepening, and the threat of famine looms large.

The UNRWA's ability to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian population in Gaza hangs in the balance, and urgent intervention is required to prevent a further escalation of the humanitarian crisis.


22:00 Nasser Hospital, the largest medical facility in Gaza City, is on the verge of collapse as it grapples with a range of challenges, including shrapnel damage, fuel shortages, and an overwhelming burial crisis.

In a grim development, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health in Gaza has revealed that families were compelled to bury the bodies of 150 of their relatives in the courtyard of Nasser Hospital due to the siege imposed by Israeli forces.

The hospital's courtyard, originally intended for medical activities and patient care, has become an improvised burial site due to the inability of families to access cemeteries or other appropriate locations for laying their loved ones to rest.

The largest medical facility in Gaza City is on the brink of collapse due to a combination of water shortage and severe fuel shortages.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health in Gaza has issued a warning, stating that the countdown has begun for the hospital's generators to cease functioning within the next four days.

The spokesperson revealed that the water tanks at Nasser Hospital have sustained damage as a result of shrapnel and Israeli drone fires.

This damage further compromises the hospital's already strained capacity to provide essential medical services to patients in need.

With the generators facing an imminent shutdown due to fuel shortages, the situation at Nasser Hospital is becoming increasingly critical.

The situation is a reflection of the broader collapse of resources and medical facilities in Gaza as a direct result of the Israeli besiegement of the Gaza Strip not allowing entry to essential aid. 

21:00 In a series of protests staged across the United Kingdom, pro-Palestinian activists have targeted Barclays Bank branches, accusing the financial institution of having financial ties to companies that supply arms to Israel.

The demonstrations reached a climax when activists stormed and closed Barclays Bank's city centre branch in Manchester.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) alleges that Barclays holds over £1 billion in shares and provides more than £3 billion in loans and underwriting to nine companies involved in the production of weapons, components, and military technology used by Israel.

The PSC has called for a boycott of Barclays until the bank ceases what it refers to as its "grave complicity in Israel's attacks on Palestinians."

Protesters have gathered outside various branches of Barclays Bank, including one near Oxford Street in central London. 

The demonstrations by pro-Palestinian activists highlight the ongoing controversy surrounding the financial ties between banks and companies involved in the arms trade.

The activists hope to draw attention to the alleged role of Barclays Bank in facilitating the supply of weapons used in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


19:30 Jewish and Muslim dignitaries launched a passionate appeal for peace on Saturday from the Bosnian town of Srebrenica on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, as deadly fighting rages in the Gaza Strip.

A "Jewish-Muslim Initiative for Peace" was presented and signed at the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial Centre by the President of the World Federation of Bergen-Belsen Associations and American lawyer, Menachem Rosensaft, and the religious leader of Bosnian Muslims, Husein Kavazovic.

The place where the appeal was launched holds a symbolic weight, as the Bosnian town saw around 8,000 Muslim men and teenagers killed by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995, a crime described as genocide by international justice.

"We join together in sorrow and our tears become prayers, prayers of remembrance, but also prayers of hope", Rosensaft, who is also general counsel emeritus of the World Jewish Congress, said at the ceremony.

He added that this "commemoration" of the victims of the Holocaust and the Srebrenica genocide was also the time and place to "jointly commit" to act to "prevent the horrors we remember here today from being repeated".

"We remember six million innocent Jews killed and many millions of other victims of fascist and Nazi ideology," said the Bosnian Grand Mufti.

"We do this at the place where, half a century after the historic 'Never Again', humanity had again failed its test of responsibility," he added.

18:00 The United Kingdom has put forward a five-point plan aimed at ending the ongoing Israeli war on Gaza, according to various media reports.

As some Western allies supporting Israel push for a humanitarian ceasefire and the restart of the political process leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state, the UK's foreign secretary, David Cameron, discussed the initiative with Israeli and Palestinian leaders during his recent visit to the region, which included Qatar, Israel, the West Bank, and Turkey.

The proposed plan includes an immediate pause in hostilities to facilitate the release of captives held in Gaza and to negotiate a permanent ceasefire.

It also calls for the development of a clear "political horizon" outlining the path to establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Additionally, the plan suggests the formation of a technocratic Palestinian government to administer the occupied West Bank and Gaza following the conclusion of the war.

To ensure the ceasefire's sustainability, Hamas would be required to release all captives and commit to halting attacks against Israel, with guarantees provided by regional states.

The UK's foreign secretary in the proposal emphasized the importance of utilizing the pause in hostilities to work towards a lasting ceasefire and focus on tangible and achievable measures.

The plan is seen as complementary to other initiatives under discussion by Western and Arab states, as international pressure mounts on Israel to end its offensive in Gaza, which has resulted in a significant loss of life according to Palestinian officials.

The UK has shared its plan with the United States, European governments, and Arab nations, believing that there is a growing consensus in the international community regarding the significance of a prisoner swap deal and a pause as prerequisites for a lasting ceasefire.

Cameron stressed the need for a clearer political horizon, the establishment of a new Palestinian government for the West Bank and Gaza, and ensuring that Hamas is unable to launch future attacks against Israel

Britain has strongly backed the Israeli war on Gaza since 7 October.

However, under growing domestic opposition to Israel's genocidal campaign in the strip, the UK has shifted its rhetoric on the conflict.

On 22 December 2023, the UK voted in favour of United Nations Security Council resolution 2720 calling for expanded humanitarian access in Gaza but has not called for an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire.

16:30 An artist from Gaza is turning the rubble of Palestinian homes destroyed by Israeli airstrikes into colourful murals, sending a message of resilience and hope amid a difficult reality.

Amal Abu Al-Sabah, 26, is among hundreds of thousands who were forcibly displaced from central Gaza to Rafah in the south of the strip.

As Amal left her home, she made sure to carry her brushes with her.

She drew her colourful mural on the ruins of a home destroyed in an Israeli airstrike that killed 10 of its residents.

In the colourful mural, titled Gaza 2024, Amal documented the numbers of those killed and injured in Israeli attacks.

She drew people salvaging others from the rubble to point toward hope for a better future

The colours of the Palestinian flag - green, red, white, and black - permeate the imagery.

"We will remain on our land and we will never leave," Amal told Al Jazeera.

"As artists, we send a message that we will keep going and we will not lose our passion.

15:00 The Palestine Liberation Organization called on donor countries to reverse their decision to suspend funds for the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), warning of political and humanitarian relief risks in Gaza.

The PLO remarks come after Britain, Italy, Australia, and Canada on Saturday joined the US in suspending their funding for UNRWA after Tel Aviv claimed that several staff of the UN body were allegedly involved in the Hamas operation against Israeli targets on 7 October.

“As at this particular time and in light of the continuing aggression against the Palestinian people, we need the maximum support for this international organization and not stopping support and assistance to it," Palestinian Authority Minister for Civilian Affairs Hussein Al-Sheikh said on X.

" We call on the countries that announced the cessation of their support for UNRWA to immediately reverse their decision, which entails great political and humanitarian relief risks," Al-Sheikh said.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry emphasized that Israel’s attack on UNRWA aims to liquidate the Palestinian refugees’ case and revoke their Right of Return.

Israel has targeted UNRWA for decades with allegations that staff in the UN body were aiding anti-Israeli activities in the occupied territories.

Since the start of the current Israel war on Gaza, Israel has carried out airstrikes on tens of UNRWA-run schools and shelters, killing more than 100 of its staff and hundreds who were seeking refuge in its shelters.

Despite all challenges, UNRWA staff continued to provide the bare minimum of humanitarian services to 2.4 million Palestinians who have been facing near-starvation conditions amid an Israeli blockade on the strip

13:30 Hamas slammed Israeli threats against the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) after Tel Aviv claimed that several UNRWA staff were allegedly involved in the Hamas operation against Israeli targets on 7 October.

"We ask the UN and the international organizations to not cave into the threats and blackmail from the Zionist entity that seeks to cut off the lifelines of our people," Hamas said in a statement.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was founded in 1949 to provide basic educational, nutritional, and health services to Palestinian refugees after they were expelled from their homeland during the 1948 war.

UNRWA currently employs over 30,000 people in the Gaza Strip, most of them Palestinians and a small number of international staff.

On Saturday, Italy, Australia, and Canada joined the US in suspending their funding for UNRWA after Israeli allegations against the UN body.

Other Western countries such as Norway stressed that they will continue to support the Palestinian people through UNRWA.

“The situation for the people of Gaza is catastrophic and UNRWA is the most important humanitarian organization in the Strip”, Foreign Minister of Norway Espen Barth Eide told Al-Jazeera.

12:00 The Palestinian health ministry said that the Palestinian death toll in Israeli strikes on Gaza has climbed to at least 26,257 people since the war broke out on 7 October.

A ministry statement said at least 174 people were killed over the past 24 hours, while another 64,797 have been wounded since the war began.

On Saturday, Israel continued bombing civilian targets across the Gaza Strip despite an ICJ ruling on Friday mandating that Israel refrain from carrying out any acts that could be deemed genocidal against the Palestinians

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians continued to battle against the rain and cold conditions in different parts of Gaza.

Displaced Palestinians stand amid tents drenched by heavy rain, at a makeshift camp set up by people who fled the ongoing Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 27, 2024. AFP

11:00 The growing alarm has focused on Khan Younis, the biggest city in Gaza's south, where the two main hospitals were barely functioning under the weight of the relentless Israeli bombardment and the press of thousands in need.

Witnesses reported more overnight strikes on Khan Younis, and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said some of the dead and wounded had been taken to the city's barely functioning Al-Amal hospital.

The strikes came after the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Israel must prevent acts of genocide in its war on Gaza.

The court, which has virtually no enforcement power, stopped short of calling for an end to the fighting but also said in its ruling that Israel must facilitate "urgently needed" humanitarian assistance.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the case as "outrageous."

 Israeli military offensive has killed at least 26,083 people, about 70 per cent of them women and children since the start of the war on 7 October.

Corpses of people killed in Israeli bombing are lined up outside the morgue of the Al-Najjar hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: AF

10:00 Fierce fighting between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters has raged for days around Khan Younis, forcing tens of thousands to flee further south to Rafah on the border with Egypt.

With a humanitarian crisis growing in Khan Yunis and northern areas of Gaza, UN agencies say most of the estimated 1.7 million Palestinians displaced by the war are crowded into Rafah.

At Khan Younis's Nasser Hospital, the largest in the besieged city, Doctors Without Borders said surgical capacity was "virtually non-existent".

The international medical aid organisation said in a news release that medical services at the hospital had "collapsed" and the few staff who remained "must contend with very low supplies that are insufficient to handle mass casualty events".

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on social media platform X that 350 patients and 5,000 people displaced by the fighting remained at the hospital and that fighting in the vicinity continued.

He said the Nasser Hospital was "running out of food, fuel and supplies" and called for an immediate ceasefire so they could be replenished.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said Israeli tanks were targeting Al-Amal Hospital, another of the few remaining medical facilities in Khan Yunis, and that it was "under siege with heavy gunfire".

Relations between Israel and the UN agency for Palestinian refugees soured after the UNRWA said tanks had shelled one of its shelters in Khan Yunis on Wednesday, killing 13 people.

UNRWA said on Friday it had sacked several employees accused by Israel of involvement in the October 7 operation.

The UN Security Council will meet on Wednesday to discuss the ICJ's ruling, the council's presidency announced.

The European Union called for the "immediate" application of the ICJ's decision.

The ruling in The Hague was based on an urgent application brought by South Africa, long a supporter of the Palestinian cause, but a broader judgment on whether genocide has been committed could take years.

A security source told AFP on Friday that the head of the US Central Intelligence Agency will meet officials from Israel, Egypt and Qatar "in the coming days in Paris" to try to reach a deal with Hamas.

The war has led to fears of wider conflict, and US forces said they had struck a target in Houthi-held Yemen after an attack on a British tanker in the Gulf of Aden.

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