HomeWorldIsrael welcomes US Congress bill banning funding for UNRWA

Israel welcomes US Congress bill banning funding for UNRWA

Israel welcomes US Congress bill banning funding for UNRWA

The approved bill also conditions aid for the Palestinian Authority if officials ‘initiate or actively support’ international probes that expose Israeli nationals to war crimes charges

International Desk, ISRAEL (EFE) – Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Saturday praised the US Congress bill passed hours earlier that bans all funding to the United Nations agency for Palestine until at least 2025, over unsubstantiated Israeli accusations that some of the agency’s employees may have ties to Hamas.

“The historic ban on US funding to UNRWA that passed today with an overwhelming bipartisan support, demonstrates what we knew all along: UNRWA is part of the problem and can not be part of the solution,” Katz wrote on social media.

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The US House and Senate voted late Friday night to approve a 1.2 trillion dollar spending bill to fund more than half of the government through September, but the bill included a suspension of funding for at least a year for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provides services to nearly 6 million Palestinians in various countries and is the main humanitarian actor in the war-torn Gaza Strip.

The legislation, which averted a government shutdown, was the subject of intense haggling between Democrats and Republicans.

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People walk past the damaged Gaza City headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on February 15, 2024. (AFP)

It includes the 3.8 billion dollars the US sends to Israel each year, but says that “funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this act or other acts (…) may not be used for a contribution, grant, or other payment” to UNRWA “until March 25, 2025.”

Republicans hailed the defunding of UNRWA as a capitulation by Democrats, and progressives in both chambers were unhappy with the move.

“Now my colleagues are pushing legislation to send more American taxpayer dollars to the apartheid government of Israel and stop funding UNRWA, the vital organization that provides desperately needed food and humanitarian aid to starving Palestinians,” Representative Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American in Congress, said from the House floor on Thursday when the bill containing the provision was introduced.

The US stopped funding UNRWA in late January after Israel notified the agency that 12 of its 30,000 employees had allegedly been involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks.

Washington had been UNRWA’s largest donor, providing the agency with between 300 and 400 million dollars a year.

Other countries, including the agency’s other major donors, announced they were withdrawing their funds, resulting in a 450 million dollar cut from the agency’s operating budget, which amounts to about 800 million dollars a year, amid the emergency response in Gaza.

However, countries such as Canada, Sweden, Australia or the European Union – which only temporarily froze funding – have announced in recent weeks their intention to resume contributions to UNRWA in light of the inconsistency of the evidence presented by Israel to support its accusations.

Other countries, such as Spain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, have maintained their allocations and even announced additional funds to soften the blow.

The agency’s director, Philippe Lazzarini, said on March 4 in his first address to the UN General Assembly since the scandal that Tel Aviv has never provided conclusive evidence of its workers’ ties to Hamas, claiming that “there is a political decision here to eliminate UNRWA.

UNRWA also claimed in an unpublished report seen by many media outlets last month that Israeli forces tortured a number of its staff in Gaza to force them to admit links to Hamas.

Meanwhile, Israel has widened its accusations against UNRWA, saying Hamas’s infiltration of the agency goes much deeper.

Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said on March 4 that of the 13,000 UNRWA workers in Gaza, more than 450 are “military operatives” of Hamas and other armed groups, and that Israel has shared this information with the United Nations.

And a report by the Israeli Embassy in Spain released on Friday said that some 480 UNRWA employees in Gaza are members of armed wings of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, 1,650 belong to the political movement, and more than 2,130, about 17% of the agency’s staff in the enclave, have active links to “terrorist” groups.

An investigation by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services is currently underway into Israel’s allegations that 12 UNRWA employees were involved in the October 7 attacks.

This is separate from the independent review group headed by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, which is conducting a comprehensive analysis of whether UNRWA has a significant number of mechanisms and procedures in place to ensure compliance with the humanitarian principle of neutrality. EFE

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