UNRWA’s funding crisis compounds Gaza’s problems amid governance vacuum

With a massive funding shortfall following donor suspensions, UNRWA’s postwar fate hangs in the balance. (AFP)
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Updated 20 March 2024
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UNRWA’s funding crisis compounds Gaza’s problems amid governance vacuum

  • Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief raised $170 million for the UN agency after the US and other donors suspended funding
  • Funds crunch threatens assistance to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, West Bank, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon

LONDON: Hopes are fading fast for the restoration of funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, which provides assistance to Palestinian refugees in Gaza and across the region, after reports that the suspension of US donations could be made permanent.

Fourteen donors, including Germany, the UK, and the US, paused funding a little over a month ago after it emerged that UNRWA had launched an internal investigation into allegations that 12 of its staff had participated in the Hamas-led attack of Oct. 7.

The US alone provided UNRWA with $343 million in 2023. Seeking to address the massive shortfall left by the suspension, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center, KSrelief, collected almost $170 million in charitable donations.




Support for the continued suspension is not universal, however. Canada, the European Commission and Sweden have all announced that they will resume assistance. (AFP)

However, Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, KSrelief’s supervisor general, said that the only way to get the agency back on its feet was to lift the suspensions, telling a UAE daily he hoped “global funders will revisit their stance.”

Gershon Baskin, Middle East director for International Communities Organization, agrees with the view that a restoration of funding is essential to UNRWA’s survival, adding that diplomatic efforts to push “particularly the US” to revisit its position were understandable.

Support for the continued suspension is not universal, however. Canada, the European Commission and Sweden have all announced that they will resume assistance.

INNUMBERS

• 5 Territories where UNRWA works (Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan).

• $343m American funding for UNRWA in 2023.

• $170m Money collected by KSrelief to fill UNRWA funding gap.

Riham Jafari, advocacy coordinator for Action Aid’s occupied Palestinian territories office, said that these announcements, together with the efforts coming from Riyadh, were “very important.”

“These developments will allow UNRWA to continue its humanitarian and development work and respond to the increasing humanitarian needs of Gaza residents resulting from continuous war against Gaza,” Jafari told Arab News.




Israel alleged that 12 UNRWA staff participated in the Hamas-led attack of Oct. 7.  (AFP)

“Politically, this means that supporting UNRWA is part of supporting stability in the region and supporting international justice, as UNRWA is responsible for serving millions of refugees. It is part of supporting regional peace.”

However, despite the $170 million raised by KSrelief and the resumption of funding from Canada, Sweden and the EC, Jafari said that it is unlikely this will be enough to make up the remaining shortfall.

To make matters worse, the fallout from the funding suspension seems to have had ripple effects across the wider humanitarian aid sector, with organizations expressing concern over the perception that no aid is getting into the besieged enclave at all.

A spokesperson for the UK-headquartered charity Muslim Hands told Arab News that this perception was both a “concerning and untrue” development.

“It has also led to a reduction in the contributions being received, something we are keen to redress,” the spokesperson said. “Not only is the aid we are sending getting to those in need in the Gaza Strip, we have live trackers that allow those who support us to see this.”




The US alone provided UNRWA with $343 million in 2023. (AFP)

However, for all the efforts of such charities, Baskin told Arab News “there is no organization on the ground that can step in and replace what UNRWA does. Just looking at the others, they collectively offer less than 10 percent of what it provides.”

The chances of the US restoring its funding for UNRWA were dealt a blow last week when State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller told a briefing “we have to plan for the fact that Congress may make that pause permanent.”




Fourteen donors, including Germany, the UK, and the US, paused funding for UNRWA a little over a month ago. (AFP)

This is despite President Joe Biden having said that the work of UNRWA was “indispensable.”

Biden could use his executive powers to lift the suspension. But, according to Reuters, even if he did take such a unilateral step, he would only be able to release about $300,000 to the agency before having to turn to Congress once again for approval.




Israel is conducting a military campaign in Gaza in its war with Hamas. (AFP)

In a somewhat contradictory move, the Biden administration appears to be supporting a funding bill that would provide military aid to both Israel and Ukraine but which also contains a provision that would block UNRWA funding should it become law.

William Deere, director of UNRWA’s Washington representative office, told Reuters that with US support accounting for one third of the agency’s total budget, the loss — temporary or otherwise — would be “very hard to overcome.”

He said that UNRWA’s work extends beyond humanitarian relief for Gaza. “It’s health care, education and social services. It’s East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon” — everywhere Palestinian refugees reside in the region.




Israeli soldiers inside an evacuated compound. (AFP)

Meanwhile, the Israeli government has sought to discredit the agency — a challenge Jordanian analyst Osama Al-Sharif said that UNRWA has lived with “for decades.”

“As far as Israel goes, defunding UNRWA is part of a larger plan to bury the issue of Palestinian refugees and the political aspects tied to their fate under any future settlement,” Al-Sharif told Arab News.

“But the Gaza debacle has damaged the Israeli effort, as now almost all Gazans are displaced, including the original refugees. The international community will have to support UNRWA now to contain the humanitarian disaster there.”

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No matter what donor nations ultimately decide to do about their suspended funding, Baskin said that the internal and independent investigations into what involvement UNRWA staff had in the Oct. 7 attack had to be addressed for the sake of accountability.




A Palestinian carries sacks of humanitarian aid at the distribution center of UNRWA. (AFP)

In practice, he said that this would improve transparency, ensuring staff were not co-opting aid, pointing to issues surrounding the purported use of UNRWA sites by Hamas’ militant wing.

It would appear UNRWA’s future hinges not only on the outcome of the investigation but, as noted by former MP and director of the Conservative Middle East Council Charlotte Leslie, the agency proving the investigation’s veracity.

“If cleared of the allegations and demonstrably adequate steps are taken to ensure UNRWA itself does not pose a security risk, it would set a very damaging precedent if allegations alone were able to shut down an international organization,” Leslie told Arab News.

For Al-Sharif, the real question is about Palestine’s future. In his view, it is “essential to look at what is happening in Gaza not as a charity case but as a political problem that needs to be addressed by the international community.”




URNWA employees clear a damaged street following an Israeli raid. (AFP)

Describing funding for UNRWA as “vital but not enough,” he urged international actors to turn their attention to Gaza’s postwar situation, the future of the enclave, and broader issues relating to the Palestinian question.

“Allowing Israeli hard-liners to continue their quest to liquidate the Palestinians will keep this region in turmoil,” said Al-Sharif. “The international community is realizing this. As are regional leaders, who will push the world to address the Israeli occupation once and for all.”




A man gestures near a pool of blood at an UNRWA warehouse and distribution centre in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, following an Israeli strike. (AFP)

Concurring, Baskin said that the recognition of a Palestinian state would negate the need for UNRWA altogether.

“Once Palestine is recognized, UNRWA’s responsibilities there become the state’s,” he said. “This is the future for the region — for Palestinian statehood to be recognized by the world. This is what needs to happen. Maybe this is too much for people to imagine.”


Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

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Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

  • Social media video verified by Reuters showed Palestinian resident of Jenin on jeep that passed through two ambulances
  • Israeli military said Israeli forces were fired at and exchanged fire, wounding a suspect and apprehending him

JERUSALEM: Israeli army forces strapped a wounded Palestinian man to the hood of a military jeep during an arrest raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin on Saturday. A video circulating on social media and verified by Reuters showed a Palestinian resident of Jenin, Mujahed Azmi, on the jeep that passes through two ambulances.
The Israeli military in a statement said Israeli forces were fired at and exchanged fire, wounding a suspect and apprehending him.
Soldiers then violated military protocol, the statement said. “The suspect was taken by the forces while tied on top of a vehicle,” it said.
The military said the “conduct of the forces in the video of the incident does not conform to the values” of the Israeli military and that the incident will be investigated and dealt with.
The individual was transferred to medics for treatment, the military said.
Reuters was able to match the location from corroborating and verified footage shared on social media that shows a vehicle transporting an individual tied on top of a vehicle in Jenin. The date was confirmed by an eyewitness interviewed by Reuters.
According to the family of Azmi, there was an arrest raid, and he was injured during the raid, and when the family asked for an ambulance, the army took Mujahed, strapped him on the hood and drove off.
Violence in the West Bank, already on the rise before the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, has escalated since then with frequent army raids on militant groups, rampages by Jewish settlers in Palestinian villages, and deadly Palestinian street attacks.


Hezbollah targets Israeli barracks after Islamist commander’s death

Updated 29 min 23 sec ago
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Hezbollah targets Israeli barracks after Islamist commander’s death

  • Israel and Hezbollah have exchanged near-daily cross-border fire since the Gaza war erupted
  • On Saturday, the Jamaa Islamiya group announced the death of one of its commanders, Ayman Ghotmeh

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group said Sunday it had targeted a military position in northern Israel with an armed drone in response to the killing of an Islamist commander.
Israel and the powerful Iran-backed group, a Hamas ally, have exchanged near-daily cross-border fire since the Gaza war erupted on October 7.
Hezbollah’s announcement came hours after it published a video excerpt purporting to show locations in Israel along with their coordinates, amid heightening fears of an all-out conflict between the two foes.
On Saturday, the Jamaa Islamiya group announced the death of one of its commanders, Ayman Ghotmeh, saying he was killed “in a treacherous Zionist raid” in Khiara in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa area.
Israel later confirmed it had carried out the strike, saying Ghotmeh was responsible for supplying the Fajr Forces, Jamaa Islamiya’s armed wing, and Hamas with weapons in the area.
Hezbollah on Sunday said its fighters launched a strike “with an attack drone” on a military leadership position in the Beit Hillel barracks “in response to the assassination carried out by the Israeli enemy in the town of Khiara.”
The Israeli military meanwhile said in a statement that a drone had “crossed from Lebanon and fell in the area of Beit Hillel,” adding that “no injuries were reported.”
Cross-border tensions have surged over the past days, with Israel’s military announcing on Tuesday that a plan for an offensive in Lebanon had been “approved and validated.”
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah responded with threats that no part of Israel would be spared in the event of an all-out war.
The Lebanese armed group on Saturday evening published a video showing Israeli positions and coordinates, along with an excerpt of Nasrallah’s speech in which he says “if war is imposed on Lebanon, the resistance will fight without restrictions or rules.”
Days earlier, it had circulated a nine-minute video showing aerial footage purportedly taken by the movement over northern Israel, including what it said were sensitive military, defense and energy facilities and infrastructure in the city and port of Haifa.
The cross-border violence has killed at least 480 people in Lebanon, most of them fighters but also 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israeli authorities say at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed in the country’s north.


Merchant ship damaged by drone attack in Red Sea: UK agency

Updated 23 June 2024
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Merchant ship damaged by drone attack in Red Sea: UK agency

  • Vessels in and around the Red Sea have come under repeated attack for months by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen

DUBAI: A merchant ship was damaged by a drone attack in the Red Sea near Yemen early Sunday morning, though no injuries were reported, according to a British maritime security agency.
Vessels in and around the Red Sea have come under repeated attack for months by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen who say they are acting in support of Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
The attack occurred about 65 nautical miles (120 kilometers) west of the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, said the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy.

 


“The Master of a merchant vessel reports being hit by uncrewed aerial system (UAS), resulting in damage to the vessel. All crew members are reported safe, and the vessel is proceeding to its next port of call,” said a bulletin from the agency.
“Authorities are investigating,” it added, offering no attribution for the attack.
On Saturday, the US Central Command, which has carried out retaliatory strikes against the Houthis over their attacks on shipping, said it had destroyed three nautical drones belonging to the group over the past 24 hours.
It also said the group had launched three anti-ship missiles into the Gulf of Aden, but no injuries or significant damage were reported.


Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says

Updated 23 June 2024
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Israeli strikes kill at least 42 in Gaza, enclave’s government media office says

  • One Israeli strike on houses in Al-Shati, a historic refugee camp, killed 24 people
  • Another 18 Palestinians killed in a strike on houses in the Al-Tuffah neighborhood

CAIRO: At least 42 people were killed in Israeli attacks on districts of Gaza City in the north of the Palestinian enclave on Saturday, the director of the Hamas-run government media office said.

One Israeli strike on houses in Al-Shati, one of the Gaza Strip’s eight historic refugee camps, killed 24 people, Ismail Al-Thawabta said. Another 18 Palestinians were killed in a strike on houses in the Al-Tuffah neighborhood.

The Israeli military released a brief statement saying: “A short while ago, IDF fighter jets struck two Hamas military infrastructure sites in the area of Gaza City.”

It said more details would be released soon.

Exchanges of fire across the Lebanese border between Israel and the powerful Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah have also escalated in recent weeks, raising fears of an even wider war.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that the cross-border hostilities must not turn Lebanon into “another Gaza,” warning of the risk of triggering a catastrophe “beyond imagination.”

His warning came as Israel stepped up its strikes in the Gaza Strip, where one hospital in Gaza City reported at least 30 dead on Friday.

Fighting continued Saturday morning, with witnesses reporting gunbattles between militants and Israeli forces in Gaza City.

And in the city’s Zeitun neighborhood, Israeli helicopters fired at militants, witnesses said.

The Israeli military meanwhile said troops continued to carry out operations in central Gaza “eliminating several armed terrorists and dismantling terrorist infrastructure in the area.”

“Fighter jets and additional aircraft struck numerous terror targets in the Gaza Strip, including armed terrorists, weapons storage facilities, and additional terrorist infrastructure,” it added.

In southern Gaza, the ICRC on Friday said 22 dead and 45 wounded people were taken to a Red Cross field hospital after shelling with “heavy calibre projectiles” near its Gaza office.

“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures puts the lives of civilians and humanitarians at risk,” the ICRC said on X.

The health ministry in the Hamas-run territory blamed the shelling on Israel, saying there were 25 killed and 50 wounded in the southern coastal Al-Mawasi area, where thousands of displaced people have been sheltering in tents.

An Israeli military spokesman did not acknowledge any role in the incident but said it was “under review.”

In the north of the Strip, the director of Gaza City’s Al-Ahli hospital was quoted by the territory’s health ministry as reporting 30 dead in strikes.

“It has been a difficult and brutal day in Gaza City. So far, around 30 martyrs have arrived at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital,” doctor Fadel Naeem was quoted as saying.

Civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Basal said five municipal workers died when a garage in the city was bombed.

Lebanon-based Hamas ally Hezbollah meanwhile claimed a number of attacks on Israeli troops and positions near the border on Friday, including two using drones.

The Israeli army said it had carried out multiple retaliatory strikes on both days.

Israeli jets on Friday struck a “Hezbollah military structure in the area of Khiam, a Hezbollah military post in the area of Mais Al-Jabal, and Hezbollah terrorist infrastructure in the areas of Taybeh and Tallouseh in southern Lebanon,” the army said in a statement.

Experts are divided on the prospect of a wider war, almost nine months into Israel’s campaign to eradicate Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Amid the escalating exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah, Israel’s military said Tuesday that plans for an offensive in Lebanon had been “approved and validated.”

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said “no place” in Israel would “be spared our rockets” in a wider war, and also threatened nearby European Union member Cyprus.

Citing the “bellicose rhetoric” on both sides, UN chief Guterres warned Friday that the risk of all-out war was real.

“One rash move — one miscalculation — could trigger a catastrophe that goes far beyond the border, and frankly, beyond imagination,” he said.

Israel’s ally the United States has appealed for de-escalation.

The violence on the Lebanon border began after the October 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas militants from Gaza. That attack resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 41 are dead.

As of Thursday, Israel’s retaliatory offensive had killed at least 37,431 people, also mostly civilians, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Months of negotiations toward a truce and a hostage release have failed to make headway, but mediator Qatar insisted Friday it was still working to “bridge the gap” between Israel and Hamas.

The war has destroyed much of Gaza’s infrastructure and left residents short of food, fuel and other essentials.

On June 16 the army said it would implement a daily “tactical pause of military activity” in a southern Gaza corridor to facilitate aid delivery.

But on Friday Richard Peeperkorn of the World Health Organization said “we did not see an impact on the humanitarian supplies coming in.”

Hisham Salem in Jabalia camp said: “The markets... used to be full, but now there is nothing left. I go around the entire market and I can’t find a kilo of onions, and if I do... it costs 140 shekels ($37).”

Doctor Thanos Gargavanis, a WHO trauma surgeon and emergency officer, said the UN in Gaza was trying to “operate in an unworkable environment.”

According to the WHO, 17 of the 36 hospitals in Gaza are operational, but only partially.

Israel’s military on Friday identified two more soldiers killed in Gaza, bringing the death toll since ground operations began to at least 312.

The war has revived a global push for Palestinians to be given a state of their own.

Armenia on Friday declared its recognition of “the State of Palestine,” prompting Israel to summon its ambassador for “a severe reprimand.”


Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming

Updated 23 June 2024
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Algerian women pioneer eco-friendly farming

  • The plant ecology and biodiversity graduates now run one of the country’s rare ecological plots of land, where the produce is grown in harmony with the broader ecosystem and without using pesticides

ALGIERS: Ibtissem Mahtout and Amira Messous pick fresh strawberries and tomatoes on the eco-friendly smallholding the two women are working near Algiers, a pioneering initiative in Algeria’s male-dominated agricultural sector.
After graduating from university four years ago, they left the capital and started working on the small patch of land in Douaouda, some 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the west.
“As soon as I’m in the field I’m happy,” said Messous, 28, holding a bundle of fresh beetroot.
“From morning to night, we’re here. To me, it’s the most beautiful job in the world.”
The plant ecology and biodiversity graduates now run one of the country’s rare ecological plots of land, where the produce is grown in harmony with the broader ecosystem and without using pesticides.

Amira Messous (L) and Ibtissem Mahtout (C) speak to a customer at their vegetable and fruit stand during the Friday market at an educational farm in Zeralda on May 30, 2024. (AFP)

Messous said it was challenging at first to “have to integrate” into a sector in which most people who work the land are men.
According to local media, as of last October just four percent of workers registered with the Chamber of Agriculture in Tipaza province where their land is were women.
But some “male farmers are happy to see educated women working the land,” said Messous.
“They take the time to explain things to us, and it brings more value to their own work.”
Her 29-year-old partner, Mahtout, recalls that they launched the project with just 60,000 Algerian dinars (around $445) — “enough to buy basic tools” — after renting the patch of land.

With the help of Torba, an association that promotes ecological farming in Algeria, they “learned to plant, to sow, to work the soil.”
Today, their 1,300-square-meter farm even employs one male worker full-time — and up to eight part-timers at harvest time.
When they are not in the fields themselves, the two women make full use of social media to sell their produce.

Ibtissem Mahtout (C) speaks with a customer who has come to pick up or buy their produce, at the Friday market at an educational farm in Zeralda, west of Algiers on May 30, 2024. (AFP)

On Instagram, they advertise their baskets of seasonal fruits and vegetables each week, and take orders for the produce on WhatsApp.
Come Friday, the first day of the Algerian weekend, clients pick up their orders at a larger farm in nearby Zeralda, where other smallholders also sell produce including flowers.
“We want to eat something healthy from time to time,” said Fatma Zohra, a 72-year-old loyal customer and subscriber to the small farm’s social media account.
“I found these girls very nice, and when I discovered they sell to subscribers, I wanted to encourage them.”
Each week, the pair sell between 10 and 30 baskets of fruit and vegetables that are in season.
The farm in Zeralda where they market their produce is also educational, and runs themed programs for children.
In addition to the Friday farmers’ market, it is also a meeting space for local families and offers cooking classes, entertainment and cultural events.