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Israel deliberately tried to undermine UNRWA

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has welcomed the Colonna report into the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees and said Israel had deliberately tried to undermine the organisation for political reasons.

Speaking in Cairo ahead of a meeting with the Egyptian Foreign Minister and a visit to the Rafah crossing into Gaza, Mr Martin said the Colonna report had made it clear that UNRWA was “indispensable and irreplaceable”.

The report, set up after Israel alleged 12 UNRWA staff were involved in the 7 October attacks, found that neutrality issues persist and has made recommendations to improve communication and oversight.

But on the specific allegations of complicity in the Hamas-led attacks, the report said that Israel had not provided the authors with evidence

Mr Martin said the report had vindicated Ireland’s response to the allegations made by Israel that 12 UNRWA staff had taken part in the Hamas attacks of 7 October.

He said: “We were very clear from the word go that you could not replace or undermine UNRWA’s role in terms of giving vital aid, teaching, education.

“Half a million children in Gaza have been without education, and the only credible organization that can deliver education is UNRWA.

“We took an opposite view to most countries, we actually increased our aid at that time, and I’m hoping now as a result of the publication of this report that some countries who have paused their support will now allow their support.”

Mr Martin said Israel had wanted to undermine UNRWA because of its link to the return of Palestinian refugees following the Arab-Israeli War in 1948.

The Tánaiste is due to meet officials working for the Egyptian Red Cresent and UNRWA at the crossing at Rafah

“UNRWA reflects the principle of the right of return of Palestinians in the event of a two-state solution.

“So, if you undermine UNRWA and remove UNRWA you essentially remove the right to return,” he told reporters.

The Tánaiste is due to meet his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry later before flying to the Al Airish military airport, from where the delegation will travel by road to the crossing at Rafah.

He is due to meet officials working for the Egyptian Red Cresent and UNRWA to hear first hand about the challenges of getting humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Mr Martin will also meet injured patients at Al Airish Hospital.

On arrival at Cairo Airport last night, Mr Martin said Ireland had contributed €56 million in aid to the Palestinians since the start of the Gaza war, compared to the normal annual contribution of around €15 million.

The Tánaiste said the political leg of his visit to the Middle East was linked to Ireland’s intention, with a group of other EU and European states, to recognise Palestinian statehood.

He said that Egypt and Jordan, which he will travel on to after the Rafah visit, were central to both ceasefire talks and a broader regional peace effort.

While the recognition issue had previously been linked to the re-launch of the Arab Peace Initiative, which Egypt and Jordan have been co-sponsoring, as well as a ceasefire in Gaza, Mr Martin said a “third dimension” to recognition could be the vote in the UN General Assembly in early May on admitting Palestine to the United Nations.

The Tánaiste said that the vote could “underpin” a move by a number of EU member states, including Spain and Ireland, to recognise the State of Palestine.

However, he did not envisage such recognition happening before or on the date of the vote.

It is understood the timing is a sensitive one for a number of member states, given that the United Nations admitted the new state of Israel on 11 May 1949.

Following his visit to Rafa and the Humanitarian Hub at Al Airish, the Tánaiste’s delegation will fly to Amman.

Mr Martin will meet the Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.

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