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War on Gaza: Famine will be 'inevitable' due to Unrwa funding cuts, UN warns

US and UK among countries freezing UN agency's funding, as Israelis hold conference about expelling Palestinians from Gaza and rebuilding settlements
A Palestinian boy arranges bags of flour distributed by Unwra, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on 29 January 2024 (Reuters)

The UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, has accused countries defunding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (Unrwa) of engaging in the “collective punishment” of Palestinians. 

Fakhri posted on X, that in the Gaza Strip, “famine was imminent” and now “inevitable” as a result of the decision by the US and nine other countries to suspend additional funding to the UN agency.

The decision to halt the money came following unproven allegations that 12 of the group’s 30,000 employees took part in the Hamas-led attack on Israel on 7 October last year. 

On Friday, Unrwa confirmed it had severed ties with the employees and launched an investigation.

"The Israeli authorities have provided Unrwa with information about the alleged involvement of several Unrwa employees in the horrific attacks on Israel on October 7," Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of Unrwa, said on Friday.

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"To protect the agency's ability to deliver humanitarian assistance, I have taken the decision to immediately terminate the contracts of these staff members and launch an investigation in order to establish the truth without delay."

Shortly after the announcement, Washington announced it would suspend funding to the agency until the allegations were addressed.

Australia, Canada, Italy, Finland, the UK, Switzerland and the Netherlands followed suit, but Norway, Spain and Ireland announced they would continue funding the agency.

The move was condemned by the Palestinian Authority’s civilian affairs minister, Hussein al-Sheikh.

"At this particular time and in light of the continuing aggression against the Palestinian people, we need the maximum support for this international organisation and not stopping support and assistance to it.” Sheikh wrote on X.

Israeli ministers attend 'Return to Gaza' conference

At least 12 Israeli cabinet ministers and members of parliament attended a conference about rebuilding Israeli settlements in Gaza and called for the forced displacement of Palestinians on Sunday.

Israeli journalist Barak Ravid reported that ministers Itamar Ben Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich and several from Netanyahu's Likud Party gave "supportive speeches”.

Video footage shared by human rights lawyer, Itay Epshtain, showed Ben Gvir and Smotrich dancing at the conference.

Epshtain said the images “would form part of the compelling evidence of noncompliance" with the ICJ's recent order for Israel to take all measures within its power to prevent acts of genocide and to punish acts of incitement.

According to Epshtain, plans were unveiled at the conference for the re-establishment of 15 Israeli settlements and the addition of six new ones - all of them planned on destroyed Palestinian communities.

Khan Younis hospitals besieged for eighth day

Al-Amal and Nasser hospitals have been under siege for the eighth day in a row amid intensified air strikes and artillery shelling in the eastern and western areas of the city, according to Palestinian news agency Wafa, citing the Palestinian Red Crescent (PRCS).

PRCS posted on X that Israeli forces are targeting "anyone moving near the hospital" and that their emergency teams are unable to reach them due to the gunfire.

Three Palestinian civilians were shot dead while attempting to evacuate the body of a woman from the hospital. According to PRCS, the body “remains on the ground just metres away from al-Amal Hospital".

They added that the surgical ward at the hospital has stopped all operations due to a lack of oxygen supplies.

Footage posted on X revealed that the vicinity and courtyard of Nasser hospital has been converted into a graveyard.

On Sunday, the Gaza health ministry warned that medical facilities in the city were on the brink of collapse.

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