Israel proposes dismantlement of UNRWA in exchange for allowing more aid into Gaza

Right-wing Israeli protesters gather outside the West Bank field office of the UNRWA, the United Nations relief agency for Palestinians, in Jerusalem on March 20, 2024, to demand its closure. (AFP)
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Updated 01 April 2024
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Israel proposes dismantlement of UNRWA in exchange for allowing more aid into Gaza

  • Israel alleges, without proof, UNRWA staff involved in Oct. 7 attacks
  • Plan ‘outrageous,’ undermines UN authority, says ex-UNRWA official

LONDON: Israel has proposed to the UN the dismantlement of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, UNRWA, and suggested transitioning its responsibilities and staff to a new entity in exchange for allowing more food aid deliveries into Gaza, the Guardian reported on Sunday.

The proposal was presented by Israel’s Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi in discussions with UN officials in Israel earlier in March. These officials then relayed the proposal to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday, sources familiar with the discussions told the Guardian.

UNRWA, the main humanitarian organization operating in the Palestinian territories since 1950, was not involved in the talks because the Israel Defense Forces have refused to deal with it. This is on the basis of unverified claims that some of the agency’s staff participated in the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.

The IDF has yet to substantiate these claims, which have prompted a suspension of $450 million in funding from 16 major donors. This funding freeze comes at a critical time as Israel’s blockade is driving 2.3 million residents of Gaza to the brink of famine.

The proposal details the transition of 300 to 400 UNRWA staff to either an existing UN agency, like the World Food Programme, WFP, or a newly established organization focused on food distribution in Gaza.

The plan includes the eventual transfer of more UNRWA employees and assets, though it remains unclear who would manage the new entity or ensure the security of its operations.

Tamara Alrifai, the agency’s director of external relations, highlighted concerns that the proposed new entity’s limited scale would undermine effective aid distribution in Gaza, emphasizing UNRWA’s extensive infrastructure and human resource capabilities.

“This is no criticism of WFP, but logically if they were to start food distribution in Gaza tomorrow, they’re going to use UNRWA trucks and bring food into UNRWA warehouses, and then distribute food in or around UNRWA shelters,” she told the Guardian.

“So they’re going to need at a minimum the same infrastructure that we have, including the human resources.”

UNRWA is by far the largest aid organization in Gaza, employing 13,000 people when the war broke out, 3,000 of whom are still working. In addition to distributing food, the agency is a major employer in Gaza, providing education and critical medical services as the enclave’s healthcare system crumbles.

“It’s not just food. We have seven healthcare centers now running in Gaza, we give 23,000 consultations every day, and we have administered 53,000 vaccines since the war started. So that in itself is an entire field that no other agency right now can offer,” Alrifai said.

“It’s great that we’re focusing on food because of the famine, and we are raising the alarm about malnutrition, but UNRWA is so much more than food distribution.”

Some UN officials see the Israeli plan as an attempt to portray the UN as unwilling to cooperate if there is famine in Gaza, which humanitarian organizations have warned is impending.

Others in the UN, several aid agencies, and human rights organizations see the Israeli proposal as the result of a long-running campaign to eliminate UNRWA.

“If we allow this, it is the slippery slope to us being completely managed directly by the Israelis, and the UN directly being complicit in undermining UNRWA, which is not only the biggest aid provider but also the biggest bastion of anti-extremism in Gaza,” one UN official told the Guardian. “We would be playing into so many political agendas if we allowed this to happen.”

The US has privately endorsed Israel’s proposal to integrate the functions of UNRWA into other UN agencies. However, this initiative has faced opposition from various donors and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has consistently supported UNRWA.

During a visit last week to a refugee camp in Jordan, Guterres emphasized the importance of UNRWA, adding that it would be “cruel and incomprehensible” to stop its services to Palestinians.

UNRWA’s authority and continuation are sanctioned by the UN General Assembly, which is the only body with the power to determine the agency’s destiny.

Several UN aid officials assert that only UNRWA has the resources and trust of ordinary Palestinians to deliver food aid to Gaza. And that attempting to create a new aid organization for political reasons in response to Israeli demands amid its relentless bombardment of Gaza would be disastrous.

“It is outrageous that UN agencies like WFP and senior UN officials are engaging in discussions about dismantling UNRWA,” former UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness told the Guardian. “The General Assembly gives UNRWA its mandate and only the General Assembly can change it, not the secretary-general and certainly not a single member state.”

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Israeli tanks at edge of Rafah’s Mawasi refuge zone, residents say

Updated 7 sec ago
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Israeli tanks at edge of Rafah’s Mawasi refuge zone, residents say

  • Residents say Israeli tanks had pushed deeper into western and northern Rafah in recent days, blowing up dozens of houses
  • Israeli military says it is continuing ‘intelligence-based, targeted operations’ in the Rafah area
CAIRO: Israeli tanks advanced to the edge of the Mawasi displaced persons’ camp in the northwest of the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Sunday in fierce fighting with Hamas-led fighters, residents said.
Images of two Israeli tanks stationed on a hilltop overlooking the coastal area went viral on social media, but Reuters could not independently verify them.
“The fighting with the resistance has been intense. The occupation forces are overlooking the Mawasi area now, which forced families there to head for Khan Younis,” said one resident, who asked not to be named, on a chat app.
More than eight months into Israel’s war in the Hamas-administered Palestinian enclave, its advance is focused on the two areas its forces have yet to seize: Rafah on Gaza’s southern tip and the area surrounding Deir Al-Balah in the center.
Residents said Israeli tanks had pushed deeper into western and northern Rafah in recent days, blowing up dozens of houses.
The Israeli military said it was continuing “intelligence-based, targeted operations” in the Rafah area and had located weapons stores and tunnel shafts, and killed Palestinian gunmen.
The armed wings of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement said their fighters had attacked Israeli forces in Rafah with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs and pre-planted explosive devices.
Elsewhere, an Israeli airstrike killed eight Palestinians in Sabra, a suburb of Gaza City in the north, and another strike killed two people in Nuseirat in central Gaza.
The military said it had struck dozens of targets throughout the Strip.
On Saturday, Palestinian health officials said at least 40 Palestinians had been killed in separate Israeli strikes in some northern Gaza districts, where the Israeli army said it had attacked Hamas’s military infrastructure. Hamas said the targets were the civilian population.
In Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, health officials at Kamal Adwan Hospital said a baby had died of malnutrition, taking the number of children dead of malnutrition or dehydration since Oct. 7 to at least 30, a number that health officials say reflects under-recording.
Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza was triggered when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
The offensive has left Gaza in ruins, killed more than 37,400 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and left nearly the entire population homeless and destitute.

Israel’s Netanyahu says US arms delay row to be ‘resolved in near future’

Updated 29 min 18 sec ago
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Israel’s Netanyahu says US arms delay row to be ‘resolved in near future’

  • Top Israeli officials lobbied their US counterparts at ‘the highest levels... at all levels’ for speedier weapons deliveries’

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday a row with the United States over weapons delays relating to the Gaza war would be resolved soon, amid simmering tensions between the allies.
“About four months ago, there was a dramatic drop in the supply of armaments arriving from the US to Israel. We got all sorts of explanations, but... the basic situation didn’t change,” he told a cabinet meeting.
“In light of what I have heard in the last day, I hope and believe that this issue will be resolved in the near future,” he added.
He said top Israeli officials lobbied their US counterparts at “the highest levels... at all levels” for speedier weapons deliveries.
“After months of no change in this situation, I decided to give it a public expression,” he said.
Netanyahu irked Washington with a video statement earlier this week accusing it of “withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.”
US officials have said they were not aware of what Netanyahu was referring to.
Netanyahu’s latest comments came as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant flew to Washington for talks about the Gaza war.
On Thursday, the prime minister said Israel needed American ammunition to fight a “war for its existence” as it battles Hamas militants in Gaza and trades fire with Lebanese Hezbollah on its northern border.
Washington is Israel’s main military backer, but the White House has voiced frustration over the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, where Israel has been fighting Hamas militants for more than eight months.


Israeli forces strap wounded Palestinian to jeep during raid

Updated 23 June 2024
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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 23 June 2024
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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.