Brazil to send additional resources to UN agency to aid Palestinians

"Enough of collective punishment," Lula stated at the Arab League

Published on 16/02/2024 - 09:35 By Andreia Verdélio - Agência Brasil - Brasília

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva announced on Thursday (Feb. 15) that Brazil will increase its contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East (UNRWA). Speaking at an extraordinary session of the League of Arab States in Cairo, Egypt, Lula urged all nations to sustain or boost their support for the agency.

Established in 1949, the UN agency conducts social programs, including education, health, and housing initiatives for Palestinians residing in the Gaza Strip, West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Lula denounced the reduction in funding and the subsequent decrease in humanitarian aid as "inhuman and cowardly." "Enough of collective punishment," he asserted.

Earlier this year, over 15 countries halted funding to the agency due to allegations that some of its employees were involved in the October 7 attack by the Palestinian group Hamas on Israel, last year. UNRWA stated that it had terminated contracts with the individuals allegedly involved, amounting to 12 out of its 13,000 employees in Gaza, and initiated an investigation.

"The decision by wealthy nations to reduce humanitarian aid comes at a critical juncture for the Palestinian people," lamented the Brazilian president. While emphasizing the importance of investigating the allegations, he insisted that the UN agency must not be paralyzed. "This reduction in aid will also impact Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, leaving them helpless. We must halt this inhuman and cowardly action," he concluded.

The agency's key contributors include the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany. Leaders of prominent UN humanitarian bodies have urged the resumption of contributions. The Brazilian Foreign Ministry has also voiced concerns over the decrease in donations.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, refugees fear the potential cessation of UNRWA's services, including medical care and education. Concurrently, amid the conflict in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA is conducting emergency operations to aid the over 2 million inhabitants of the Palestinian enclave.

On October 7, 2023, Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, launched a surprise missile attack on Israel. The attack included an incursion of armed fighters by land, resulting in the deaths of approximately 1,200 civilians and military personnel. Additionally, hundreds of Israeli and foreign hostages were taken.

In response, Israel has been bombing various Hamas infrastructures in Gaza and imposed a total siege on the territory, cutting off the supply of water, fuel, and electricity. These Israeli attacks have resulted in over 22,000 deaths, primarily women and children, along with numerous injuries and displacements. The conflict between Israel and Hamas traces its roots to a territorial dispute over lands once occupied by peoples such as the Hebrews and Philistines, from whom both Israelis and Palestinians are descended.

For Lula, Israel's reaction is "disproportionate and indiscriminate." "Hamas' attack on Israeli civilians is indefensible and deserved Brazil's strong condemnation. Israel's disproportionate and indiscriminate reaction is unacceptable and constitutes one of the most tragic episodes of this long conflict. The human and material losses are irreparable, we cannot trivialize the death of thousands of civilians as mere collateral damage," he said.

"Before our eyes, the population of Gaza is suffering from hunger, thirst, disease, and other types of deprivation, as the World Health Organization warns. The situation in the West Bank, which was already critical, is also becoming untenable," Lula stated, advocating the release of Israeli hostages by Hamas, a definitive ceasefire in the region, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Arab League

During his speech, the president also mentioned that Brazil was the first Latin American country to be granted observer status in the League of Arab States, made up of 22 countries, and said that he aims to deepen the partnership and trade with countries from the Global South, with which he shares "visions, values, challenges, and expectations."

The term "Global South" refers to poor or emerging countries, primarily located in the Southern Hemisphere. “The Arab League's commitment to promoting stability and development makes this organization a voice to be listened to attentively on the great issues of our time,” he stated.

Lula is traveling to Egypt and will also visit Ethiopia to strengthen Brazil's international agenda with African countries. In the past year, he has also visited the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar among Arab nations.

"The potential in sectors such as trade, investment, the environment, science and technology, culture and development cooperation is immense," said the president, explaining that Brazil's trade balance with Arab League countries has risen from $5.4 billion in 2003 to $30 billion in 2023.

Translation: Mário Nunes -  Edition: Nádia Franco

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