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Australia pauses $6m aid as UN investigates claims over attack

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28 January 2024, The Age & Sydney Morning Herald / AP, by Natassia Chrysanthos

Australia will pause its $6 million humanitarian aid package to the United Nations agency for Palestinians in Gaza as the organisation investigates allegations that 12 of its staff may have been involved in the Hamas attacks on southern Israel on October 7.

Countries including the United States and Canada also temporarily halted funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency after the organisation fired several staffers suspected of taking part in the attacks that killed 1200 Israelis.

The UNRWA has been the main agency providing urgent assistance including food, shelter and emergency healthcare in Gaza since Israel launched a retaliatory war that has created a humanitarian crisis in the strip and killed 26,000 Palestinians.

The agency’s chief, Philippe Lazzarini, said the UNRWA had terminated contracts with ‘‘several’’ employees and ordered an investigation after Israel provided information alleging they played a role in the October 7 attack.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia was deeply concerned about the allegations as she welcomed the UNRWA’s response to terminate contracts and launch an investigation.

‘‘Australia will engage closely with UNRWA on investigations and is consulting with international partners. While we do this, we will temporarily pause disbursement of recently announced funding,’’ Wong said yesterday.

‘‘UNRWA does vital, life saving work. It is providing essential services in Gaza directly to those who need it, with more than 1.4million Palestinians currently sheltering in its facilities. Australia will continue to support the people of Gaza and work to provide humanitarian assistance.’’

Israel’s near-complete seal on Gaza has left almost the entire population reliant on a trickle of international aid able to enter the territory each day, and UN officials have said about a quarter of the population now faces starvation.

The United Nations’ top court, the International Court of Justice, on Friday ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians and do more to help civilians.

A spokeswoman for Wong said Australia respected the independence of the court, and that it noted ‘‘decisions of the ICJ are binding on the parties to a case’’.

‘‘Australia’s position has been clear and consistent throughout this crisis,’’ she said.

‘‘We have consistently urged all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, advocated for humanitarian access, and called for civilians to be protected and hostages released.’’

Australia’s $6 million in funding to UNRWA was part of an additional $22 million humanitarian assistance package announced by Wong on her first visit to the Middle East earlier this month.

The extra funding for the UN agency at the time threatened to anger local pro-Israel groups who had previously accused the agency of helping foster antisemitism and extremism in the West Bank and Gaza. The agency had denied the allegations.

Lazzarini did not elaborate on the staffers’ alleged role in the attacks. But in a statement, he called the allegations shocking and said any employee ‘‘involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution’’.

‘‘UNRWA reiterates its condemnation in the strongest possible terms of the abhorrent attacks of 7 October’’ and calls for immediate and unconditional release of all Israeli hostages, he said.

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Article source: The Age & Sydney Morning Herald / AP | Natassia Chrysanthos | 28 January 2024

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000