US Congress members demand full UNRWA funding

Fifty members of the US Congress on Wednesday called for full funding of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to provide urgent humanitarian relief to the Gaza Strip.

"For decades, UNRWA has played a unique and integral role in supporting the welfare and survival of Palestinians," Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal said in a statement.

Jayapal said that humanitarian aid in the region is already severely restricted.

"Prohibiting United States funding for this organization, which has been on the frontlines of conflict in Gaza, is especially irresponsible and unacceptable given our country’s historic role as the largest contributor to UNRWA. There is no question in my mind that revoking funding for UNRWA will lead to more devastation and loss of life in Gaza," she added.

Israeli authorities accused some of the UNRWA employees in Gaza of taking part in the Oct. 7 cross-border attack on Israel. Several countries have suspended funding for the agency, which was established in 1949 to help Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. The agency said it terminated contracts with the employees following allegations by Israel.

Jayapal said anyone involved in the planning of the October attack must be held accountable.

"And I’m glad to see an independent investigation into allegations against the small number of UNRWA employees. We must ensure though that those acting in good faith to save civilian lives are not undermined by a lack of US funding," Jayapal said.

'Simply cruel'

Congressman Andre Carson, for his part, said denying millions of innocent civilians shelter, food, water, sanitary conditions and healthcare is "simply cruel."

"The campaign to discredit UNRWA’s track record because of unsubstantiated allegations, against a small fraction of UNRWA’s employees, attempts to distract from the reality of a devastating, urgent humanitarian crisis in Gaza," he said.

He also stressed that the Congress and the Biden administration must unfreeze funding for UNRWA and immediately restore and replenish the "desperately" needed funds.

Congressman Jamie Raskin said the UNRWA is "essential" to mobilizing relief to the "besieged and desperate" population of Gaza.

"While I support a timely, thorough and independent investigation of profoundly disturbing allegations against a dozen UNRWA employees out of 30,000 workers, UNRWA is the only institution on the ground with the capacity to provide immediate life-saving assistance to Gaza’s 2.2 million people and address the escalating humanitarian catastrophe in the region," Rashkin said.

Israel has launched a war on the Gaza Strip following a Hamas attack on Oct. 7. The ensuing Israeli bombardment has killed nearly 29,954 and injured over 70,000 with mass destruction and shortages of necessities.

The Israeli onslaught has pushed 85% of Gaza’s population into internal displacement amid acute shortages of food, clean water, and medicine, while 60% of the enclave's infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to the UN.

Israel stands accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice. An interim ruling in January ordered Tel Aviv to stop genocidal acts and take measures to guarantee that humanitarian assistance is provided to civilians in Gaza.

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