UN chief urges Western countries to restore funding to UNRWA – Mondoweiss

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Casualties

  • 26,422+ killed* and at least 65,087 wounded in the Gaza Strip.
  • 387+ Palestinians killed in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem
  • Israel revises its estimated October 7 death toll down from 1,400 to 1,147.
  • 557 Israeli soldiers killed since October 7, and at least 3,221 injured.**

*This figure was confirmed by Gaza’s Ministry of Health. Some rights groups put the death toll number closer to 32,000 when accounting for those presumed dead.

** This figure is released by the Israeli military.

Key Developments

  • UN chief says nine of 12 UNRWA employees accused by Israel of being involved in October 7 attack were suspended.
  • UN chief appeals to U.S. and “governments that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations.”
  • Palestinian who fled to Rafah says, “when I arrived here, I did not find a bite of food or a tent. I slept in the street under the rain…This is the hardest war. I witnessed all wars [in Gaza].  I’m 70 years old, this is the toughest of all.”
  • Palestinians bury 150 martyrs in yard of Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis as Israeli tanks lay siege to compound.
  • Gaza Ministry of Health says 30 bodies remain unidentified in mortuary as anyone who leaves or enters Nasser Hospital is at risk of being shot by Israeli forces.
  • Amal Hospital in Khan Yunis warns it has run out of oxygen due to ongoing siege imposed by Israeli forces for past week.
  • Hundreds of Israeli protestors attempt to block entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza from Karem Abu Salem crossing.
  • Israeli police disperse and arrest protestors in West Jerusalem calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign.
  • Israeli forces hand body of Salim Nasser Abu Hajar from Tulkarm, after killing him in mid-December.
  • Islamic Jihad’s Al-Quds Brigades says it detonated an explosive device in an Israeli infantry force in Qabatiya in northern West Bank.

UN chief urges U.S. to restore funding to UNRWA

The UN chief, Antonio Guterres, called on the U.S. and its European allies to restore the funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) as millions in the Gaza Strip are in urgent need of humanitarian support.

Guterres said that UNRWA would investigate the Israeli claim that 12 UN employees took part in Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7.

Guterres added that nine of the 12 employees accused by Israel of being involved in the attack have been suspended. UNRWA employs 30,000 workers, 13,000 in Gaza, and the rest in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and the occupied West Bank.

Since December 1949, it has operated schools, health clinics, food banks, and youth centers, among other humanitarian services essential to Palestinian refugees who were forcibly expelled from homes and towns by Zionist militias in 1948.

The U.S., Canada, Australia, and other European states are now pausing their funding to UNRWA.

“While I understand their concerns, I was myself horrified by these accusations, I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations,” Guterres said in a statement Saturday evening.

For second time since 2018, U.S. halts donations to UNRWA

The U.S. is the biggest donor to UNRWA, paying $153 million to the agency in 2023, and $343 million during 2022, according to UNRWA official figures. 

Guterres said “the tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA, many in some of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be penalized. The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met.”

Israeli bombardment killed at least 152 UN workers in the Gaza Strip since October 7.

Prior to that, the U.S. has ended funding to UNRWA for almost three years. In 2018, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced that Washington is not going to donate the full sum of money pledged to UNRWA, accusing the agency’s institutions of being “irredeemably flawed.”

Trump’s decision was hailed by Israel and fit perfectly with the Likud ruling party’s agenda to end the cause of Palestinian refugees, who number in the millions and are still calling for their right to return to lands and homes occupied by Zionist militias in what became the present-day state of Israel.

A Likud lawmaker, Anat Berko, summoned the Israeli position at that time, telling CNN that “an end to UNRWA will bring an end to the ‘refugee forever’ status. We cannot solve any conflict with this definition of refugees. Humanitarian aid — yes. But UNRWA — no.”

UNRWA has been a lifeline for tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who sought shelter from Israeli bombardment in its facilities and schools. 

UNRWA has also been a reliable and independent source to comprehend the plight of thousands of Palestinians who have endured constant Israeli bombardment, internet and telecommunications blackouts, and forced displacement since October.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), where Israel sat in the dock to face accusations of committing genocide, had cited and quoted UNRWA’s officials and reports during the hearings, and also during its ruling on Friday, which ordered Israel to “prevent genocidal actions” in Gaza. 

‘I did not find a bite of food or a tent. I slept under the rain.’

Israel’s bombardment in the Gaza Strip has resulted in the displacement of almost two million Palestinians. Most of them were forced into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city bordering Egypt’s Sinai.

The Palestinian population in Gaza is made up of 80 percent refugees from 1948, and have now been displaced yet again 75 years later, reliving the trauma that their grandparents endured during the Nakba.

In Rafah, thousands of Palestinian families spent their Saturday in tents under heavy rains, cooking their meals on stoves, and digging channels to direct the flooded water away from their mattresses.

A Palestinian told Al-Jazeera Arabic while on a ladder fixing his tent with heavy-duty nylon tarps that his family had been displaced three times, from Gaza to Al-Nuseirat, to Khan Yunis, and now to Rafah.

Not every Palestinian could leave northern Gaza or Khan Younis, and many have now opted to build shelters on top the rubble of their levelled houses, using whatever material they could find amidst the rubble to shields themselves from the elements.

Oum Imad, a Palestinian resident of Abbsan town, told Wafa that she walked for three days to arrive in Rafah. 

“When I arrived here, I did not find a bite of food or a tent. I slept in the street under the rain…I am accompanied by orphaned children, without a mother or father. This is the hardest war. I witnessed all wars [in Gaza]. I’m 70 years old, this is the toughest of all,” she said.

Palestinians bury relatives in Nasser Hospital as Israeli forces lay siege to Khan Younis

On Saturday evening, Palestinians buried 150 martyrs in the yard of the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, as Israeli tanks laid siege to the facility.

Gaza’s Ministry of Health said that 30 bodies remain unidentified in the mortuary as anyone leaving or entering the Nasser Hospital is at risk of being shot by Israeli forces.

On Sunday, the ministry said that Israel committed 19 massacres in the Gaza Strip, killing 165 Palestinian martyrs and injuring 290 in the past 24 hours. 

Israel killed 26,422 Palestinians and 65,087 people in the Gaza Strip since October. 

“A number of victims are still under the rubble and on the roads. The occupation prevents ambulances and civil defense crews from reaching them,” the ministry added on its Telegram channel. 

The Nasser Hospital, the largest medical facility in southern Gaza, is facing “a severe and dangerous shortage of blood units, and many anesthesia drugs have run out,” the ministry said

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) also warned on Sunday that the Amal Hospital in Khan Younis had run out of oxygen due to the ongoing siege imposed by Israeli forces for the past week.

Since Monday, Israeli forces have bombed several areas in the vicinity of the Al-Amal and Nasser Hospitals in Khan Younis. It also stormed the Al-Khair Hospital and arrested a number of medical staff. There are only 14 hospitals partially operating in the Gaza Strip, nine of which are in the south, and the rest are in northern Gaza.

Israeli artillery and military planes bombed several areas in the Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours. In north Gaza’s Al-Zaytoun neighborhood, an Israeli air strike killed eight Palestinians and injured dozens, according to Wafa news agency. 

Israeli forces also bombed Al-Maghazi refugee camp, Khan Younis’s Batn Al-Sameen, Al-Malalha, and Jourat Al-Aqqad areas.

Protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; thousands march in Europe in support of Palestinians 

On Sunday morning, hundreds of Israeli protestors attempted to block the entry of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip from Karam Abu Salem crossing.

The protestors have called for the release of all Israeli captives in Gaza before allowing any aid trucks to enter. The protests are organized by the Order 9 movement, made up of the families of captives, settlers from the occupied West Bank, and Kibbutzniks. Attempts to block aid to Gaza by Order 9 have been growing since last week. 

On Sunday, Israeli police dispersed and arrested some protestors in West Jerusalem, calling for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign. Tens of thousands of Israelis also protested in Tel Aviv, calling for an election and the release of captives in Gaza.

In the wake of South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the ICJ, the mayor of Rishon Lezion, south of Tel Aviv, ordered the removal of the South African flag.

Meanwhile, in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, hundreds of thousands of citizens marched on Saturday in demonstrations in several cities and capitals of Europe, including Berlin, Vienna, Denmark’s Odense, and Rotterdam, to name a few.

Israeli forces raid towns in West Bank, Palestinians detonate explosive device in Qabatiya

In the past 24 hours, Israeli forces arrested 22 Palestinians from the towns of Ramallah, Jenin, Burqin, Bethlehem, and Silwan.

Israeli forces handed the body of Salim Nasser Abu Hajar from the Shweika area, north of Tulkarem, after holding him for several weeks. Israeli forces shot Abu Hajar, 25, and arrested his brother near the village of Deir Al-Ghusoun, north of Tulkarem, on December 16, 2023. 

On Sunday morning, Israeli forces stormed the village of Tayasir, east of Tubas, while on Saturday evening, Israeli forces stormed the villages of Beit Rima and Deir Ghassaneh, northwest of Ramallah, which were resisted by Palestinians.

Israeli forces were raiding the house of Othman Al-Assi to arrest his son Nader, who was not at home, and interrogated the family, Wafa reported.

Israeli forces also stormed the towns of Jenin and Qabatiya and clashed with Palestinian resistance fighters. In Qabatiya, the Islamic Jihad’s Al-Quds Brigades said that it detonated an explosive device in an Israeli infantry force in the town.



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