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Ireland’s president condemns ‘propaganda campaign’ against UN over Gaza

Ireland’s president has condemned a “propaganda campaign” against the United Nations over Gaza as “a scandalous travesty”.

Michael D Higgins urged countries to follow Ireland’s lead and increase aid funding to the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

Ireland has pledged 20 million euro extra in support for UNRWA after several countries, including the UK, paused funding for the relief agency while an investigation takes place after allegations emerged in January.

Israel has claimed that 12 staff members of UNRWA, which provides essential services including healthcare and education in Gaza, were involved in the October 7 attacks by Hamas.

UNRWA commissioner general Philippe Lazzarini said the aid agency had lost out on 450 million US dollars (419 million euro or £359 million) in the wake of the allegations.

On Monday, as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins, Mr Higgins urged every country to do “all in its power” to avoid the most extreme humanitarian disaster in Gaza.

“The situation we are now witnessing in Gaza is one from which the global public must not be distracted or avert its gaze,” he said in a statement.

“It is a matter of life and death. The blockading of food and aid must immediately be stopped.

Israel-Hamas conflict
Tanaiste Micheal Martin and UNRWA commissioner general Philippe Lazzarini (Cate McCurry/PA)

“Vital essential medicines and sources of energy must be provided to what is left of the hospitals in Gaza.

“Aid that could be delivered immediately is scandalously being blocked and those responsible for doing so must take responsibility for the deaths that are ensuing.

“Those countries, and they include some of the strongest economies in the world, who have removed over 450 million dollars from the UNRWA budget must take account of what is now being shown on the television screens of the world for all to see – infant children dying from lack of oxygen, many more dying from malnutrition and all of this set to escalate.

“The recent decisions made by Canada and Sweden to rescind a previous decision and resume aid to UNRWA are to be welcomed, as is the recent announcement by the European Commission that it will immediately disburse €50m in funding.

“Given the depth of what the people of Gaza are now facing, and what is so clear to all concerned, others should now follow such a lead. May I also urge all countries to emulate Ireland’s example in increasing its aid at this time to this most vital United Nations agency.”

Mr Higgins also urged UN countries to “take notice” of a statement by Mr Lazzarini, that there has been “little less than a campaign” against UNRWA.

“It is a campaign which could have the effect of undermining the role of the UN in the present circumstances and in relation to the future of Gaza,” Mr Higgins said.

“His plea for help deserves the support of all who believe in the United Nations.

“The releasing of a propaganda campaign against the United Nations is a scandalous travesty against the little less than heroic efforts of all those involved on the front line in Gaza – medical staff, those working to supply nutrition and aid in the most trying of circumstances, and those other dedicated professionals in UNRWA who have lost more than 160 of their colleagues.”

Mr Higgins called for a ceasefire, the release of hostages and “above all” the release of humanitarian aid.

He said that dropping aid from the sky could not substitute for UNRWA’s work, and extremist settlers blocking aid trucks was “an appalling denial of the humanity”.

Once a ceasefire is achieved, Mr Higgins said work towards a long-term peace solution should be sought to provide “for the rights of Palestinians and for the appropriate security of Israel”.

He added: “The world has been warned by those on the ground, and by those at the highest level, including the Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, about the implications of an extension of the military campaign into Rafah.

“No-one now or in the future can say they didn’t know what the consequences of inaction would be. This is something that has been emphasised by, among others, the president of the United States.

“It is time for the world to put an end to this loss of life, to remember our shared humanity, listen to the peacemakers and commit all of its efforts to bringing this crisis to an end and ensuring an appropriate long term settlement is reached.”