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Saudi Arabia and Qatar condemn Israeli parliamentary bill to declare UNRWA as a terrorist outfit

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have condemned an Israeli parliamentary bill that seeks to label UNRWA, the primary aid provider for Palestinians in Gaza, as a “terrorist group,” joining a growing number of nations opposed to the proposal.

The bill, which passed a preliminary vote in parliament last week, arises from increasingly tense relations between Israel and the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

Israel has accused the agency of links to Hamas, claiming that hundreds of its employees are members of resistance groups, including some who allegedly participated in the Oct. 7 attacks on southern Israel. UNRWA denies these charges, asserting that it adheres to UN standards of neutrality.

These allegations have led to a freeze in funding by many donors to the agency at a time when Gaza is suffering under a severe humanitarian crisis triggered by the ongoing conflict. UNRWA states it took swift action against those accused and that an independent review of the agency’s neutrality found that Israel had not previously raised concerns about the workers nor provided evidence to support its claims.

The bill moving through parliament seeks to designate the agency as a “terror group,” arguing that the employees’ alleged involvement in the Hamas assault demonstrates that “it is a terror organisation that is no different from the Hamas terror organisation.” The bill also aims to sever diplomatic ties between Israel and the agency.

The bill passed the initial vote 42-6 and must go through committees and three additional votes before becoming law.

Dismantling UNRWA

Juliette Touma, UNRWA’s director of communications, said the bill is part of Israel’s ongoing “systematic campaign” to dismantle the UN agency, which endangers the lives of its staff. She mentioned it is too early to predict the bill’s impact on the agency.

UNRWA operates in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, and it must pass through Israeli crossings to deliver aid and supplies into Gaza.

In response to the bill, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry stated that branding UNRWA as a terrorist organisation is “an extension of the systematic campaign aimed at dismantling the agency at a time when the need for its humanitarian services is dire due to the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip.”

Saudi Arabia also condemned the move, emphasizing that UNRWA employees “are doing their duty to alleviate the severity of the humanitarian catastrophe that the Palestinian people are going through.”

“The kingdom stresses that Israel, as an occupying state, must abide by international law and international humanitarian law and stop obstructing the work of international organisations,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry stated.

The European Union, which along with its member states is the largest donor to UNRWA, also condemned the bill on Friday, highlighting the “crucial and irreplaceable” role of UNRWA in addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Belgium, an EU member, issued its own condemnations.

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I am an experienced writer, analyst, and author. My exposure in English journalism spans more than 28 years. In the past, I have been working with daily The Muslim (Lahore Bureau), daily Business Recorder (Lahore/Islamabad Bureaus), Daily Times, Islamabad, daily The Nation (Lahore and Karachi). With daily The Nation, I have served as Resident Editor, Karachi. Since 2009, I have been working as a Freelance Writer/Editor for American organizations.

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