‘Collective punishment:’ Russian foreign minister blasts countries for halting UNRWA funding

The EU may also suspend funding to UNRWA depending on the outcome of the UN’s investigation.

By Ben Cohen, The Algemeiner

Russia’s foreign minister on Tuesday slammed more than a dozen UN member states for announcing a freeze on funding for UNRWA — the UN agency solely dedicated to Palestinian refugees and their descendants — following revelations that several of its employees participated in the Oct. 7, 2023 Hamas pogrom in southern Israel, in which more than 1,200 people were murdered and over 200 seized as hostages, amid atrocities including mass rape and mutilation.

As the US House Foreign Affairs Committee prepared for a special hearing on Tuesday afternoon to examine UNRWA’s “mission and failures,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused those countries that have suspended aid of meting out “collective punishment” to Palestinians in Gaza.

“From the very beginning, condemning the October 7 attack, we clearly said that it is necessary to fight terrorism in all its manifestations, but to fight with means that do not in turn violate international humanitarian law. What happened and is happening is a collective punishment prohibited by international humanitarian law,” Lavrov declared at a press conference in Moscow following a meeting with his Gambian counterpart Momodu Tangara, in remarks reported by the official TASS news agency.

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Lavrov expressed support for an investigation into the accusations. “But if the investigation is replaced by collective punishment of UNRWA, and most importantly, those to whom UNRWA provides invaluable assistance, then I believe that this is the wrong decision,” he stressed.

Russia’s criticism is unlikely to shift the position of more than a dozen countries — among them the US, Japan, Germany, France, the UK and, most recently, New Zealand — that have paused funding to the agency. Moscow has faced punishing sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine, with the EU agreeing on Monday to set aside billions of euros of windfall profits from Russian central bank assets frozen in Europe, the first step of a plan to help fund Ukraine’s post-war reconstruction.

The EU may also suspend funding to UNRWA depending on the outcome of the UN’s investigation into the participation of at least 12 UNRWA employees in the Oct. 7 atrocities. The European Commission (EC), which coordinates aid for Palestinians paid for by joint EU funds, said in a statement on Monday that it would “review the matter in light of the outcome of the investigation announced by the UN.”

A handful of Western countries have meanwhile confirmed their willingness to continue funding UNRWA, including Spain, Luxembourg and Ireland.

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“UNRWA’s 13,000 employees provide lifesaving assistance to 2.3 million people at an incredible personal cost, with over 100 staff killed in the last four months,” Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin wrote on X/Twitter on Sunday.