Palestine refugee funding woes ‘absolutely unbearable’: UNRWA chief

People carry banners during a sit in, in front of a health centre run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), demanding the organisation not to reduce the assistance provided to Palestinian refugees, in Gaza City (AFP)
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Updated 22 September 2023
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Palestine refugee funding woes ‘absolutely unbearable’: UNRWA chief

  • Agency’s financial crisis risks creating ‘inflection point,’ warns Philippe Lazzarini
  • Jordan’s deputy PM says his country is confronting ‘huge challenges’

New York City: The funding crisis for Palestinian refugees in Jordan and other host countries has created an “absolutely unbearable” situation that could soon reach an inflection point, the chief of the UNRWA has warned. 

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East supports more than 5 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, but has been met with a series of financial crises due to donor countries slashing funding. 

The agency is set to mark 75 years since its establishment next year, but its commissioner-general, Philippe Lazzarini, has warned that immediate funding is required to safeguard millions of Palestinian refugees. 

Lazzarini appeared at a press briefing Thursday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly alongside Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs and expatriates. 

The two had earlier taken part in a high-level meeting organized by Jordan and Sweden to encourage increased funding for the UNRWA. 

Lazzarini said that the agency required between $170 and $190 million just to keep its activities in Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza and elsewhere running until the end of the year. 

He added: “We had some pledges today which will definitely help us to provide more clarity and run the operation in the foreseeable future, but we haven’t yet met our objective. 

Jordan’s foreign minister spoke at length about his country’s issues hosting large numbers of Palestinian refugees amid the UNRWA funding crisis, saying that the agency is “the only beacon of hope in a very bleak situation full of deprivation.” 

He added: “The challenges are huge. The difficulties facing UNRWA are complicated and increasing in scope. Therefore, we call on the international community to act to provide the support UNRWA needs. 

“If we are still unable to establish justice for the Palestine refugees, let us at least give them a chance to live decently.” 

Despite several UN member states pledging Thursday to boost their contributions to the UNRWA, the agency still only has the means to provide services through to October. 

Lazzarini told the media: “I told the member state mission: ‘I know that it sounds like a broken record when we talk about the financial crisis of the agency.’ But I also told them: ‘Please don’t take our ability to muddle through this crisis as a given.’ 

“There will be a point where we reach an inflection point. It has become absolutely unbearable to deal with a situation where the needs of the Palestinian refugees increase, the expectations increase. 

“This tension cannot continue. It’s highly unsettling. It’s unsettling for the communities … for the host countries. 

“And this is also fueling in the region a feeling of abandonment by the international community.” 

The UNRWA chief warned that his agency’s funding crisis would hit children the hardest. Lazzarini recently oversaw the opening of a school for Palestinian refugee students, but said that he did not know if the site would exist by the end of the year. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and austerity measures have also compounded the woes of refugee children, Lazzarini said. 

“One indicator which I was sharing with a member state here today was that in the fourth grade this year, only 20 percent of the (Palestinian refugee) students reached the average for Arabic and mathematics, whereas in 2015, it was 60 percent. 

“And this is quite significant, and collectively, we have to look at how can we bring back a quality education.” 

Safadi was asked about the possibility of engagement between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the EU and the US over the Palestine issue, and the potential for a solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees. 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said recently that the Kingdom was taking steps to reach a political agreement with Israel. 

Safadi said: “I will not comment on what the crown prince of Saudi Arabia has said in terms of efforts made towards reaching a political agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel but we trust the position of our brothers in Saudi Arabia. 

“They have a very firm position in terms of supporting the Palestinian question, the Palestinian right, and supporting the two-state solution as the only path towards achieving peace and stability in the region.” 

The foreign minister reiterated Jordan’s position: “We insist on the two-state solution, that if undermined, and if hope is lost completely in reaching this solution, then there will be a one-state solution, and this is not a solution. 

“It will be a heinous situation of racial discrimination that would lead to further conflict and further deterioration.” 

Lazzarini said that his chief focus during the UN General Assembly has been to place the issue of Palestinian refugees “back on the political agenda.” 

He added: “My main ask is that the issue of the safeguarding of the right of the Palestinian refugees be brought to the agenda, and by having this conversation we talk also after that, about the sustainability of an agency like UNRWA.” 

Lazzarini also discussed the recent eruption of violence in Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon, which he described as “very worrying.” 

He added: “As we know, it has prevented our kids to go back to school. Our schools have been used by the militants. We have called more than once to the militants to vacate our schools. 

“They need to be protected. They need to be respected. And sadly, this has not been the case. 

“So, I think the fighting in Ain Al-Hilweh right now is adding a layer to the extraordinary human misery prevailing already in the camp.” 

Safadi spoke on his country’s engagement with the political process, saying that Jordan is “talking with everybody” in a bid to reach a resolution. 

He added: “We are engaged with all parties, including with the Israelis. We’re talking to everybody. 

“We’re working with the Americans, with the Europeans, we’re in full coordination with the Palestinians, with other Arab countries, Egypt and others to try and find a political horizon.” 


Yemen’s Houthis say they will continue sinking British ships

Updated 55 min 57 sec ago
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Yemen’s Houthis say they will continue sinking British ships

  • The US military confirmed on Saturday that the UK-owned vessel Rubymar had sunk after being struck by an anti-ship ballistic missile

CAIRO: Yemen’s Houthis vowed on Sunday to continue targeting British ships in the Gulf of Aden following the sinking of UK-owned vessel Rubymar.
The US military confirmed on Saturday that the UK-owned vessel Rubymar had sunk after being struck by an anti-ship ballistic missile fired by Yemeni Houthi militants on Feb. 18.
“Yemen will continue to sink more British ships, and any repercussions or other damages will be added to Britain’s bill,” Hussein Al-Ezzi, deputy foreign minister in the Houthi-led government, said in a post on X.
“It is a rogue state that attacks Yemen and partners with America in sponsoring ongoing crimes against civilians in Gaza.”

Already, many ships have turned away from the route. The sinking could see further detours and higher insurance rates put on vessels plying the waterway — potentially driving up global inflation and affecting aid shipments to the region.

The Belize-flagged Rubymar had been drifting northward after being struck by a Houthi anti-ship ballistic missile on Feb. 18 in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a crucial waterway linking the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

The US military’s Central Command previously warned the vessel’s cargo of fertilizer, as well as fuel leaking from the ship, could cause ecological damage to the Red Sea.


Born and died during Gaza war, infant twins are buried in Rafah

Updated 03 March 2024
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Born and died during Gaza war, infant twins are buried in Rafah

  • The twins — a boy and a girl — were among five children killed in the strike on a house in Rafah
  • The members of the Abu Anza family killed in the strike were lined up in black body bags

RAFAH: Born a few weeks into the Gaza war, infant twins Wesam and Naeem Abu Anza were buried on Sunday, the youngest of 14 members of the same family whom Gaza health authorities say were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah overnight.
Their mother, Rania Abu Anza, held one of the twins, its tiny body wrapped in a white shroud, to her cheek and stroked its head during the funeral on Sunday. A mourner held the second baby close by, pale blue pyjamas visible beneath a shroud.
“My heart is gone,” wept Abu Anza, whose husband was also killed, as mourners comforted her. She resisted when asked to release the body of one of the babies ahead of burial. “Leave her with me,” she said, in a low voice.
The twins — a boy and a girl — were among five children killed in the strike on a house in Rafah, according to the health ministry in Gaza. Abu Anza said she had given birth to them — her first children — after 11 years of marriage.
“We were asleep, we were not shooting and we were not fighting. What is their fault? What is their fault, what is her fault?” Abu Anza said.
“How will I continue to live now?“
Relatives said the twins had been born some four months ago, about a month into the war which began on Oct. 7, when Hamas stormed Israel, in an attack that killed 1,200 people and resulted in another 253 being abducted, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel’s offensive has killed more than 30,000 people in the Gaza Strip since then, according to Gaza health authorities, laying waste to the territory and uprooting most of its population.
The members of the Abu Anza family killed in the strike were lined up in black body bags. A man wept over the body of one of the dead, a child wearing pyjamas. “God have mercy on her, God have mercy on her,” said another man, consoling him.
Abu Anza said she had been wishing for a ceasefire before Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month which begins around March 10.
US President Joe Biden has expressed hope one will be agreed by then. “We were preparing for Ramadan, how am I supposed to live my life? How?” she said.


Arab foreign ministers meet in Riyadh to discuss Gaza war

Updated 03 March 2024
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Arab foreign ministers meet in Riyadh to discuss Gaza war

  • Meeting held on the sidelines of GCC ministerial session
  • Foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt and Morocco discuss Gaza

RIYADH: The Gulf Cooperation Council carried its 159th ministerial session in Riyadh on Sunday, while separate meetings were held involving the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.

Joint ministerial meeting held on the sidelines between the GCC and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that what is happening in Gaza is a systematic plan to liquidate the Palestinian cause. Adding that "Security solutions to the conflict have brought nothing but destruction to the region, and the escalation in Gaza extended to the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab"

Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Jasem Mohammed Al-Budaiwi firmly reiterated the collective stance of the GCC nations, denouncing the severe Israeli infringements of international humanitarian law in Gaza, particularly its consistent and direct targeting of civilians. Al-Budaiwi also underscored the immediate need for a ceasefire.

Al-Budaiwi also pointed out GCC rejection of any measure that would affect Egypt’s right to the Nile waters and stressed the necessity to reach an agreement on the Renaissance Dam.


Arab foreign ministers meet in Riyadh to discuss Gaza war

Updated 03 March 2024
Follow

Arab foreign ministers meet in Riyadh to discuss Gaza war

RIYADH: The Gulf Cooperation Council carried its 159th ministerial session in Riyadh on Sunday, while separate meetings were held involving the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.

Joint ministerial meeting held on the sidelines between the GCC and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that what is happening in Gaza is a systematic plan to liquidate the Palestinian cause. Adding that "Security solutions to the conflict have brought nothing but destruction to the region, and the escalation in Gaza extended to the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab"

Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Jasem Mohammed Al-Budaiwi firmly reiterated the collective stance of the GCC nations, denouncing the severe Israeli infringements of international humanitarian law in Gaza, particularly its consistent and direct targeting of civilians. Al-Budaiwi also underscored the immediate need for a ceasefire.

Al-Budaiwi also pointed out GCC rejection of any measure that would affect Egypt’s right to the Nile waters and stressed the necessity to reach an agreement on the Renaissance Dam.

 


Hamas, Qatari, US envoys in Cairo for Gaza talks: state-linked media

Updated 03 March 2024
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Hamas, Qatari, US envoys in Cairo for Gaza talks: state-linked media

  • A Hamas official says a ceasefire in Gaza may be secured if Israel accepts group's demands
  • Meanwhile, the Israeli military intensified operations in Khan Younis

CAIRO: Delegations from Hamas, Qatar and the United States have arrived in Egypt for “a new round of negotiations” toward a truce in the Gaza war, state-linked Al-Qahera News reported Sunday.
Cairo, Doha and Washington have mediated in weeks of talks aiming to pause the fighting in the almost five-months-old war between Israel and Hamas sparked by the October 7 attack.
Their goal has been to secure a truce by the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on March 10 or 11, but hopes have been dampened by a series of failed talks since a one-week pause in November.
A Hamas source on Sunday told AFP its delegation to Cairo is being led by senior leader Khalil Al-Haya.
“The delegation will meet Egyptian mediators and deliver the group’s response to the new Paris proposal,” the source said, in reference to negotiations held last month in the French capital with Israel’s presence.
The United States regards Hamas as a “terrorist” organization, and in previous talks Egyptian officials have functioned as the key conduit between US envoys and Hamas, as well as between Israel and Hamas.
The negotiations have centered on a proposal to pause the fighting for six weeks and for Hamas to free hostages in return for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, and greater aid deliveries.
The war began on October 7 with an unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.
Gaza militants also abducted 250 hostages, of whom 130 remain in captivity according to Israel, a figure that includes 31 presumed dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive on the besieged Palestinian territory has killed 30,410 people, mostly women and children, the Gaza health ministry reported Sunday.