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Arab Leaders Tell Blinken That Funding for UNRWA Must Be Restored

Blinken in Doha, with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani. Official State Department photo by Chuck Kennedy

In the course of the latest round of his shuttle diplomacy in Southwest Asia, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken is getting an earful from his Arab interlocutors on the necessity of restoring full funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). During a joint press conference with Blinken in Doha last night, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani not only called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza but also for the resumption of funding of the UNRWA.

He said: “This war has so far incurred more than 20,000 deaths in Gaza and more than 60,000 injured, most of whom are kids and women. Therefore, we call the international community to assume responsibility and call for a ceasefire. It is time—high time—for an international community decision to a ceasefire. I would like in this context to mention that defunding the UNRWA will have repercussions—catastrophic repercussions because more than six million Palestinians will not receive humanitarian assistance. We believe in the importance of the United Nations and the UNRWA, and we have to separate between the agency as a UN agency that has strong values and the accusations against some of its employees, who are being investigated. We cannot punish a humanitarian agency because of some accusations against some of its employees.”

Blinken was in Cairo prior to flying to Doha, where he heard Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi stress Egypt’s strenuous efforts in leading the provision, coordination, and entry of humanitarian aid to Gaza, despite challenging field circumstances, in coordination with UN agencies and other relief institutions, reported Al Ahram. El-Sisi underscored the pivotal role played by UNRWA in this regard. El-Sisi also stressed the need to implement relevant international and UN resolutions and take serious steps towards a fair and comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian cause to ensure sustainable stability in the region.

Separately, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit condemned the cutoff of funding to UNRWA during a TV interview yesterday. “The cessation of the work of this UN agency poses a danger to the entire Middle East region,” said Gheit, as quoted by the Al-Qahera Al-Ekhbariya TV channel, reported TASS. He said that “the desire of some countries to exclude the role of UNRWA by suspending its funding is a moral, humanitarian and security mistake.” According to Gheit, this “dangerous trend” is consistent with the position of right-wing parties in Israel, which have always sought and are still seeking to limit and minimize the activities and importance of UNRWA in solving the Palestinian refugee problem.”