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Estonia suspends funding to UNRWA over Hamas collusion claims

Estonian and United Nations flags on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building.
Estonian and United Nations flags on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Estonia has joined several other countries in suspending its funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) after allegations arose of the participation in the October 7 Hamas terror attacks by 12 UNRWA members.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200) tweeted Sunday afternoon that: "Concerning the recent very serious allegations against the UNRWA, Estonia will not continue with the funding of the organization."

"I call for a quick and in-depth investigation of these allegations," the minister went on.

Estonia is joined by Japan, whose foreign ministry says it is "extremely concerned by the allegations," and several other nations, including the U.S., the U.K. and Finland.

UNRWA's commissioner-general, Philippe Lazzarini, has said that the bulk of Gaza's 2.3 million population depends on the agency, now more than ever with the current war, which started in October.

UNRWA's parent organization, the UN itself, is urging donor nations not to suspend their funding, with Secretary General Antonio Guterres highlighting that: "Two million civilians in Gaza depend on critical aid from UNRWA for daily survival but UNRWA's current funding will not allow it to meet all requirements to support them in February."

Guterres added that he had been "horrified" by the charges of UNRWA members having actively aiding Hamas, but added that "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."

Israel submitted its allegation to UNRWA privately at the end of last week.

Nine UNRWA staffers were immediately fired by Philippe Lazzarini upon receipt of the Israeli complaint, while, Guterres has said, one of these staff members has been confirmed dead.

Around a dozen UNRWA staff are additionally under investigation.

"Any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution. The Secretariat is ready to cooperate with a competent authority able to prosecute the individuals in line with the Secretariat's normal procedures for such cooperation," Guterres added, pledging a full, independent review of the organization on 17 January,"

UNRWA's role has long been criticized by Israel which alleges it has supported Hamas for years, though the agency itself rejects this.

At least $363 million (a little under €335) is pledged for UNRWA as a whole, towards its budget of upward of $1.6 billion (€1.47 billion) earmarked towards close to six million Palestinian refugees, including those in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as Gaza.

UNRWA provides education and health care service in addition to food aid.

A UN-appointed expert on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, warned that the funding cuts meant that famine was now "inevitable" in Gaza, The Jerusalem Post reports.

A recent International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling noted deep concern about loss of life, and while it stopped short of calling for a ceasefire, stated that it was "plausible" that Israel has been in contravention of the UN Genocide Convention in its actions in Gaza.

The convention defines the commission of certain acts as being genocidal acts, including killing any group, in whole or in part.

The ICJ ordered provisional measures on January 26, 2024, in a "state-to-state" case brought by South Africa alleging that Israel is violating the Genocide Convention, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports.

HRW says that the court adopted "provisional measures," or binding orders, which include requiring Israel to prevent genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, enable the provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance, and prevent and punish incitement to commit genocide.

Israeli bombardments of Gaza since early October have led to the loss of over 26,000 lives, Al Jazeera reports.

Palestinian officials and Hamas have strongly criticized the decision, saying it "entails great political and humanitarian relief risks".

High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell has highlighted that the 27-member bloc is to "assess further steps and draw lessons based on the result of the full and comprehensive investigation," Al Jazeera reports.

Al Jazeera says 85 percent of the Gaza territory's population has been displaced since the strikes began.

These came in response to the October 7, 2023 attack on Israeli civilians.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

Source: The Jerusalem Post, The New Yorker, HRW, Al Jazeera.

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