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Qatar, Saudi Arabia condemn Israel over effort to brand UNRWA 'terrorist group'

People walk past the damaged Gaza City headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on 15 February, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have condemned the Israeli parliament for its effort to brand the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, as a "terrorist group," as condemnations continue to mount over the move.

In a statement on Sunday, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said the Israeli parliament's attempts to classify UNWRA as a terrorist organization 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.”

The ministry further reiterated its full support for the UN refugee agency, calling on the international community “to stand firmly in the face of Israeli plans aimed at liquidating the agency” and depriving millions of Palestinians of its necessary services.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry also denounced the move, saying 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 organizations,” it said.

Separately on Sunday, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) condemned the Israeli authorities’ effort to undermine the mandate and role of UNRWA, saying such actions are serious violations of the UN Charter.

It also stressed that the mandate granted to UNRWA by the UN “is a top priority in terms of policy, humanitarian and relief perspectives and as a key element for stability in the region.”

The OIC went on to say that it remains committed to UNRWA’s mandate as “a sign of global commitment” towards the rights of Palestine refugees, calling on the international community to strengthen support for the aid agency and ensure its ability to continue providing basic services to Palestinians, particularly in light of the dire humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

On Wednesday, the Israeli parliament advanced a bill to revoke the immunity and privileges afforded to UNRWA and to designate the aid agency as a “terrorist group”.

The EU's foreign policy chief voiced "deep concern" over the ongoing effort, stressing that the member states of the EU bloc firmly supported the UN organization.

UNRWA was established in 1949 by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to provide relief to Palestinian refugees. Due to decades-long atrocities against Palestinians by the Israeli regime, UNRWA's mandate has been continuously renewed every three years since then.

At present, around 5.9 million people are eligible for UNRWA’s services, and the agency operates in Gaza, West Bank, East al-Quds, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

UNRWA has long faced misinformation and disinformation, including about its staff and operations.

The long-running push by Israel to shut UNRWA down has intensified since it launched a genocidal war on Gaza on October 7, 2023, which has so far killed more than 36,439 Palestinians and injured over 82,627 others.

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