UN chief says UNRWA is ‘backbone’ of Gaza aid response

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) as “the backbone of all humanitarian response in Gaza” and appealed to all countries to “guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s lifesaving work”.

Several countries including the United States, UNRWA’s biggest donor, paused funding after Israel accused some agency staff of taking part in the October 7 attack by Hamas.

Speaking to the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) on Wednesday, Guterres said he was “personally horrified” by the accusations waged against UNRWA staff but stressed the need to overcome the termination.

“Yesterday, I met with donors to listen to their concerns and to outline the steps we are taking to address them,” he said.

“I am extremely concerned by the inhumane conditions faced by Gaza’s 2.2 million people, as they struggle to survive without any of the basics.”

Describing conditions inside the besieged enclave, the UN chief said heavy rains were flooding makeshift tent camps, forcing children, parents and the elderly to sleep in the mud. Clean water has become almost completely inaccessible and preventable diseases are rife, while the health system has collapsed.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday warned of a “massive catastrophe” unfolding in Gaza.

“This is a population that is starving to death, this is a population that is being pushed to the brink,” WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan told a news conference.

“The civilians of Gaza are not parties to this conflict and they should be protected, as should be their health facilities.

UN officials have warned that UNRWA will have to halt operations by the end of February if funding is not restored.

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