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Countries urged to ‘think again’ on pulling UNRWA funding

President Michael D Higgins has appealed to countries that have withdrawn funding from a relief agency in Gaza to “think again” and provide support to help avoid a “catastrophe”.

Several countries have frozen funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) while a review of Israeli allegations that some of its staff took part in the Hamas attack on 7 October is under way.

UNRWA has 13,000 staff in Gaza and helps to educate 30,000 children.

In a statement released today, Mr Higgins urged the countries, including the UK and Germany, to revoke their decision.

Mr Higgins is among many heads of state and government leaders who have made the call.

“As Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of UNRWA, stated yesterday, this is a man-made disaster and famine can be avoided if there is genuine political will to grant access and protection to the delivery of meaningful assistance,” Mr Higgins said.

“The lead taken by Ireland in giving increased and additional aid to UNRWA is an example of which Irish people can be proud of, not only because our own history, but given the importance international humanitarian action and international humanitarian law has in our world.

“As president of Ireland, I would appeal to those countries which have withdrawn aid to think again and to provide the desperately-needed support to UNRWA’s 30,000 staff in the region and 13,000 staff in Gaza so we can avoid this catastrophe.

World Food Programme teams have reported ‘unprecedented levels of desperation’ in Gaza

“While negotiations on a necessary permanent ceasefire are proceeding, I repeat Ireland’s call once again for an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages.

“Children must not be abandoned to die as the facts of these situations are carried on the television screens of the world.”

Mr Higgins said that in a speech to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres “drew attention to the serious breaches of international human rights law”.

He said Mr Guterres’ words were delivered with a sense of urgency.

“The Secretary General, in the course of his remarks, drew attention once again to the ‘completely insufficient’ level of humanitarian aid reaching those in such desperate need in Gaza and how, as he put it, an all-out Israeli offensive on Gaza ‘would put the final nail in the coffin of our aid programmes’,” he said.

“One wonders how the representatives of those countries who have withdrawn funding from UNRWA can look on as young infants struggle to live, infants whose lives could be saved by having such basics as bread and water.

“Some of the most experienced and qualified experts familiar with what is happening in Gaza are saying that famine looms, with young children in particular heavily at risk and needing bread and clean water. Their mothers and close relatives listen to their cries in what must be conditions of unbelievable stress.

“In my visits to Gaza all those years ago, which I visited a number of times over a 20-year period, one of the most striking features was the importance of bakeries.

“Today we have seen bakeries wiped out together with most places of shelter, where children struggle for food. Surely it cannot be possible for people to look on and allow this tragedy to unfold on our screens.”

Mr Higgins also said the weakening of UNRWA is “undermining” the UN.

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