Australia pledges more Gaza aid, resumes UNRWA funding

Australia has pledged more aid for Gaza and will resume funding of reconstruction agency UNRWA.

Australia has pledged more aid for Gaza and will resume funding of reconstruction agency UNRWA. Photo: AAP

Australia has unfrozen aid to a United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees after security advice, following accusations some staff helped attack Israel.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong also announced a further $6 million in aid for Gaza after expressing horror at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the besieged strip.

In January, Wong froze funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) following allegations by Israel that some staff were involved in the October 7 attack by Hamas.

A handful of the agency’s staff were fired following the accusations.

The allegations against UNRWA warranted an immediate and appropriate response, Wong said as she defended the decision to freeze aid.

“The Australian government in the face of such allegations has to ensure we go through the process we have to assure Australians we’re able to ensure funding goes to the appropriate people and that’s what we’ve done,” she said on Friday.

“The best available current advice from agencies and the Australian government lawyers is that UNRWA is not a terrorist organisation.”

Israel wanted the UN agency disbanded and replaced after accusing it of being aligned with Hamas, a recognised terrorist organisation by Australia.

Israel provided only some of the evidence it relied upon to make the accusation UNRWA staff participated in the Hamas attack, in which 1200 Israelis were killed and more than 200 people taken hostage, according to Tel Aviv.

That was considered by Australia, Wong said.

The Australian government also took advice from security agencies and government lawyers.

“It’s a primary consideration in restoring funding to ensure that Australian funding is used appropriately … it’s also a primary consideration to recognise that we have children and families who are starving,” she said.

The disbursement of $6 million to UNRWA will come as Australia finalises a new funding agreement with the agency to include more conditions, including guarantees of staff remaining neutral.

The move follows the reinstatement of funding by partners such as Canada, Sweden and the European Commission.

The decision has been slammed by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and the Australian Jewish Association.

“Our community favours the provision of aid to civilians in Gaza who are in desperate need but we are totally opposed to the use of UNRWA as an agency for delivering that aid,” president Daniel Aghion said.

Australia will also provide an additional $4 million to UNICEF to provide urgent services, and $2 million for a UN co-ordinator to expand humanitarian access into Gaza.

Additionally, a C-17A Globemaster plane will deliver 140 Defence Force aerial delivery parachutes to help Jordan and the United Arab Emirates airdrop aid into Gaza.

Australia has been briefed by relief agencies about large stocks of food and supplies across the border.

“But there’s no way to move it across the border into Gaza and deliver it at scale without Israel’s co-operation,” Wong said.

“We implore Israel to allow more aid into Gaza now.”

The extra funding brings Australia’s total commitment of humanitarian aid for Gaza to $52.5 million.

Wong also addressed concerns about Palestinians fleeing Gaza having Australian visas cancelled while they were en route.

The vast majority of Australian citizens, residents and immediate family members who wanted to leave the besieged strip had been helped, she said.

“All visa applicants undergo security checks and are subject to ongoing security assessment,” she said, without referring to any individual cases.

The US asked partner nations including Australia to help fund a new humanitarian port in Gaza so aid can flow by sea.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is also working to open more humanitarian aid corridors into Gaza with the besieged strip on the brink of famine, according to the UN.

More than 31,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the local health ministry, since Israel retaliated against Hamas’ attack on October 7.


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