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Another top donor says it will resume funding the UN agency for Palestinians as Gaza hunger grows

JERUSALEM: Another top donor to the UN agency aiding Palestinians said Saturday that it would resume funding, weeks after more than a dozen countries halted hundreds of millions of dollars in support in response to Israeli allegations against the organization.
Sweden’s reversal came as a ship bearing tons of humanitarian aid was making preparations to leave Cyprus for Gaza after international donors launched a sea corridor to supply the besieged territory facing widespread hunger after five months of war.
Sweden’s decision followed similar ones by the European Union and Canada as the UN agency known as UNRWA warns that it could collapse and leave Gaza’s already desperate population of more than 2 million people with even less medical and other assistance.
“The humanitarian situation in Gaza is devastating and the needs are acute,” development minister Johan Forssell said in Sweden’s announcement, adding that UNRWA had agreed to increased transparency and stricter oversight and controls. Sweden will give UNRWA half of the $38 million funding it promised for this year, with more to come.
Israel had accused 12 of UNRWA’s thousands of employees of participating in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel that killed 1,200 people and took about 250 others hostage. Countries including the United States quickly suspended funding to UNRWA worth about $450 million, almost half its budget for the year. The UN has launched investigations, and UNRWA has been agreeing to outside audits to win back donor support.
On the eve of Ramadan, hungry Gaza residents scrambled for packages of food supplies dropped by US and Jordanian military planes — a method of delivery that humanitarian groups have called deeply inadequate compared to deliveries by ground. But the daily number of aid trucks entering Gaza since the war has been far below the 500 that entered before Oct. 7 because of Israeli restrictions and security issues.
People dashed through devastated neighborhoods of Gaza City as the parachuting aid descended. “I have orphans, I want to feed them!” one woman cried.
“The issue of aid is brutal and no one accepts it,” said another resident, Momen Mahra, claiming that most of the airdropped aid falls into the sea. “We want better methods.”
The US military said that its planes on Saturday airdropped more than 41,000 “meal equivalents” and 23,000 bottles of water into northern Gaza, the hardest part of the enclave to access.
The Health Ministry in Gaza said that two more people, including a 2-month-old infant, had died as a result of malnutrition, raising the total number of people who died from hunger to 25. Ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra said the toll included only people brought to hospitals.
Overall, the ministry said, at least 30,878 Palestinians have been killed since the war began. It doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its tallies, but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead. The ministry is part of the Hamas-run government, and its figures from previous wars have largely matched those of the UN and independent experts.
The opening of the sea delivery corridor, along with the airdrops, showed increasing frustration with Gaza’s humanitarian crisis and a new international willingness to work around Israeli restrictions. The sea corridor is backed by the EU together with the United States, the United Arab Emirates and other involved countries, and the European Commission has said that UN agencies and the Red Cross will also play a role.
The ship belonging to Spain’s Open Arms aid group was expected to make a pilot voyage to test the corridor as early as this weekend. The ship has been waiting at Cyprus’s port of Larnaca for permission. Israel has said it welcomed the maritime corridor, but cautioned that it would need security checks.
Open Arms founder Oscar Camps told The Associated Press that the ship pulling a barge with 200 tons of rice and flour would take two to three days to arrive at an undisclosed location where the group World Central Kitchen was constructing a pier to receive it. The group has 60 food kitchens throughout Gaza to distribute aid, he said.
US President Joe Biden has announced a plan to build a temporary pier in Gaza to help deliver aid, underscoring how the US has to go around Israel, its main Middle East ally and the top recipient of US military aid. Israel accuses Hamas of commandeering some aid deliveries.
United States officials said it will likely be weeks before the Gaza pier is operational. The executive director of the US arm of medical charity Doctors Without Borders, Avril Benoit, in a statement criticized the US plan as a “glaring distraction from the real problem: Israel’s indiscriminate and disproportionate military campaign and punishing siege.”
Sigrid Kaag, the UN senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, has said air and sea deliveries can’t make up for a shortage of supply routes on land.
Meanwhile, efforts to reach a ceasefire before Ramadan appeared stalled. Hamas said Thursday that its delegation had left Cairo until next week.
International mediators had hoped to alleviate some of the immediate crisis with a six-week ceasefire, which would have seen Hamas release some of the Israeli hostages it’s holding, Israel release some Palestinian prisoners and aid groups be given access for a major influx of assistance into Gaza.
Palestinian militants are believed to be holding around 100 hostages and the remains of 30 others captured during the Oct. 7 attack. Several dozen hostages were freed in a weeklong November truce.
 

 

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