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Tánaiste Micheál Martin, with UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini Rolling News

Tánaiste accuses Israel of ‘disinformation campaign’ against UNRWA as he pledges extra funding

The announcement comes during a visit to Dublin by the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency.

LAST UPDATE | Feb 15th 2024, 7:12 PM

TÁNAISTE MICHÉAL MARTIN has accused Israel of a “disinformation campaign” against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza as he pledges additional funding for the aid organisation.

Ireland will provide immediate support of an additional €20 million for UNRWA and its work in assisting refugees in Gaza.

Martin, who is also Minister for Foreign Affairs, made the announcement during a visit to Dublin by UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini.

Speaking to the press after their meeting, Martin said sufficient aid is still not reaching civilians in Gaza and accused Israel of launching a disinformation campaign against UNRWA. 

He was referring to the recent allegations made by Israel that 12 of UNWRA’s staff were directly involved in Hamas’ 7 October on Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed.

Martin said it was “no coincidence” that the allegations emerged in parallel to South Africa’s genocide case against Israel in the International Court of Justice.

Lazzarini said today that no evidence has been provided to supported the claims. 

Despite this, the agency has since removed the accused staff.

UNRWA has been the last lifeline for thousands of displaced Palestinians in Gaza over the last few months but has been thrown into chaos after multiple countries, including the US, Germany and the UK suspended funding as a result of Israel’s allegations.

On the additional funding announced today, Martin said it is vital to sustain UNRWA’s work not just in Gaza, but also across the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Martin also urged other countries to resume and expand support to UNRWA “so that it can deliver for the millions of Palestinian refugees in need”.

Speaking today on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Lazzarini said around 15 countries have frozen funding which has created a shortfall of $450 million (€419m) and that the impact of this will be felt from next month onwards.

Lazzarini said an investigation and review is ongoing of UNRWA’s “risk management processes” and called on countries that have suspended funding to renew this commitment.

He added that part of his meeting with Martin today will revolve around creating a “coalition of countries supporting the agency, because it is under an existential threat”. 

Lazzarini noted that “Ireland is a long-standing, strong supporter to the agency both politically and financially.”

He added that the letter sent to the European Commission yesterday by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was “extremely significant” for UNRWA.

In yesterday’s joint letter, Varadkar and Sanchez said UNRWA must be allowed to operate in Gaza and that EU support to UNRWA must be maintained.

“There is no pathway to achieving the urgent massive and sustained scale up in humanitarian assistance, through full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access that is needed, without UNRWA playing a central role,” said the letter. 

Meanwhile, Lazzarini added that the situation in Rafah is “deeply concerning” and that citizens have paid a “staggering and disproportionate price”.

He also questioned the ability of UNRWA to operate in Rafah if a ground offensive begins and said there is “no safe place” in the Gaza Strip.

Rafah is the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip and has become the latest target in Israel’s military campaign. 

The Israeli army is preparing for a ground incursion into the city along the border with Egypt, where displaced Palestinians have sought refuge from fighting further north.

Around half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population are now refugees in Rafah.

Displaced Palestinians are living in dire conditions, with lack of access to food, water, healthcare and sanitation.

More than 68,200 people have been wounded according to the latest Gaza health ministry toll, and at least 28,576 people, mostly women and children, have been killed during Israel’s assault on the Palestinian territory since 7 October.

Sinn Féin’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson TD Matt Carty welcomed the increased funding that Martin announced today, adding that more should be done by Government to convince international partners to do the same.

Carty said UNWRA is “under attack” and that Israel is has attempted to “undermine” and “dismantle” the organisation.

“Some 30,000 UNRWA employees provide vital services and assistance to Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.”

Carty said the UNRWA workers are the best placed organisation to assist with Palestinians in need of assistance, as Israel continues to shell up and down the region in its retaliatory attack.

He added that Ireland must use “every measure of diplomatic influence” to push back against Israel’s attempt to discredit the aid group and its workers.

“The Irish government must work with all international partners to press for, not just the restoration of funds, but for increased funding for this important lifeline,” Carty said.

-With reporting from Diarmuid Pepper, Jane Matthews and Muiris O’Cearbhaill