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US announces first Gazan aid since suspending UNRWA donations

“It’s not for the secretary-general to tell USAID where it’s sending its money,” a U.N. spokesman told JNS.

Samantha Power, U.S. Agency for International Development administrator, on a visit to the Middle East in February 2024. Credit: USAID.
Samantha Power, U.S. Agency for International Development administrator, on a visit to the Middle East in February 2024. Credit: USAID.

During a visit to Jordan, Samantha Power, the U.S. Agency for International Development administrator, announced on Tuesday that Washington will give an additional $53 million in humanitarian aid to the World Food Programme and international nonprofits for Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, and in Judea and Samaria.

“This brings the total amount of funding announced by the U.S. government since Oct. 7 to more than $180 million,” said Power, who is also visiting Israel and Judea and Samaria this week.

The funding appears to be the first new U.S. donation of humanitarian assistance to Gaza since the Biden administration suspended aid in January to UNRWA, the scandal-plagued, Palestinian-only refugee and social-services agency under the umbrella of the United Nations.

That suspension came after Israel said that a dozen UNRWA staff members participated in Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre, and later, amid accusations of deeper and broader ties between UNRWA staff and Gazan terror groups.

The $53 million will cover “resources for food, shelter, water, medicine, sanitation, hygiene—all to the people of Gaza and the West Bank,” John Kirby, White House national security communications advisor, said during a Tuesday press briefing.

“There is no question that much more aid is needed to address the critical and urgent needs on the ground,” Kirby said. “That’s why President [Joe] Biden and the entire team will continue to work every day to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza while also prioritizing the safety of civilians and aid workers.”

The United States is one of 16 countries that have yet to restore their paused funding to UNRWA, pending an internal U.N. investigation.

Tuesday’s announcement came after a media report that António Guterres, the U.N. secretary-general, urged U.N. agencies to push back on the Biden administration’s contingency plan, anticipating that Congress might cut UNRWA funding permanently.

That plan, according to a Devex report, envisions Washington approaching heads of U.N. agencies, including UNICEF and the World Food Programme, about assuming UNRWA’s current responsibilities. Guterres is urging agency chiefs to rally behind UNRWA and decline donations originally intended for the embattled agency, according to the Devex report.

Guterres and other U.N. officials have been adamant that only UNRWA, with its large staff and infrastructure, can effectively and efficiently deliver humanitarian aid and social services to Gaza residents.

JNS asked Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman to Guterres, during a Tuesday briefing whether the secretary-general feels that the State Department donation circumvents UNRWA.

“What the secretary-general would like to see is a return of funding to UNRWA from those partners who have paused their funding,” Dujarric said. “We are doing whatever we can to answer their questions, to answer their concerns.”

World Food Programme
A forklift with signage for the World Food Programme, a United Nations Agency. Credit: U.S. Agency for International Development.

‘Flour for bread production’

The United Nations talks often about the other agencies operating in Gaza, Dujarric said. “They all need cash,” he said. “They all need assistance.”

JNS asked if Guterres advised the Biden administration not to route funding to those agencies. “It’s not for the secretary-general to tell USAID where it’s sending its money,” Dujarric said.

“This funding supports trusted humanitarian organizations that are positioned to rapidly provide assistance to address growing needs in Gaza and the West Bank,” USAID stated.

The USAID announcement added that the agency will “continue to work closely with WFP to provide urgently needed food assistance to people in Gaza and the West Bank, including flour for bread production.”

Bezalel Smotrich, the Israeli finance minister, has been blocking flour shipments to Gaza for weeks in an attempt to stop it from reaching Hamas through UNRWA.

He was coordinating with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “to investigate a different distribution mechanism that won’t end up in the hands of Hamas,” he wrote, in Hebrew, on social media on Feb. 13.

“Now the world also knows that UNRWA is a central part of the war machine of the Nazi Hamas terrorists,” he added.

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