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Middle East updates: Germany resumes UNRWA cooperation

Published April 24, 2024last updated April 24, 2024

Germany will reestablish cooperation with the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the government said. Meanwhile, Israel has thanked the US Senate for approving billions in military aid. Follow DW for more.

An UNRWA-run school is lying in ruins following its destruction during Israel's military offensive
UNRWA ran many schools in Gaza, like the one seen here, before the Israeli offensive that followed Hamas attacksImage: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/picture alliance
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • Germany restarts cooperation with UNRWA in Gaza
  • Israel thanks US Senate for approving billions in military aid
  • IDF says it struck dozens of Hezbollah targets in Lebanon 

Here are the latest developments from the Middle East region on Wednesday, April 24: 

Skip next section Germany's renewed cooperation with UNRWA 'disappoints' Israel
April 24, 2024

Germany's renewed cooperation with UNRWA 'disappoints' Israel

Israel said it was disappointed by the German government's announcement that it would resume working with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip.

"Germany's decision to renew cooperation with UNRWA in Gaza is regrettable and disappointing," Foreign Ministry spokesman Oren Marmorstein wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

He added that Israel shared with Germany and other donor countries detailed information about hundreds of Hamas militants and many hundreds more who are members of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist organizations, all of whom are UNRWA employees.

"These are not just a few bad apples  this is a rotten and poisonous tree," Marmorstein said.

The German government announced earlier that it plans to resume cooperation with UNRWA in the Gaza Strip in the near future. 

The decision comes after an investigation requested by the United Nations found no evidence to support Israeli allegations that the agency had been thoroughly infiltrated by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Schulze: 'Report shows UNRWA is not part of Hamas'

Skip next section Netanyahu calls Gaza protests on US campuses 'horrific'
April 24, 2024

Netanyahu calls Gaza protests on US campuses 'horrific'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned pro-Palestinian student protests in US universities as "horrific" and said the demonstrations "have to be stopped."

Campuses across the United States have been rocked by demonstrations against Israel's relentless assault on the Gaza Strip, resulting in mass arrests and the cancellation of classes at some of the most prestigious US universities.

"Antisemitic mobs have taken over leading universities," claimed Netanyahu.

"They call for the annihilation of Israel. They attack Jewish students. They attack Jewish faculty," he said.

Netanyahu argued that the "response of several university presidents was shameful" and said more needed to be done.

US universities hold remote classes due to Gaza protests

Skip next section IDF says it struck 40 Hezbollah targets in Lebanon
April 24, 2024

IDF says it struck 40 Hezbollah targets in Lebanon

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement reported by the AFP news agency that Israeli forces were carrying out "offensive action" across southern Lebanon on Wednesday.

The Israel Defense Forces said it had struck "40 Hezbollah terrorist targets," which included "storage facilities, weaponry and additional terror infrastructures" used by Hezbollah.

"Many forces are deployed on the border and IDF forces are carrying out offensive action currently throughout southern Lebanon," Gallant said in the statement.

The statement added that "half of Hezbollah's commanders in southern Lebanon have been eliminated." 

The strikes came a day after the militant group said it fired drones at two Israeli bases north of Acre, which is one of Israel's northernmost cities.

Israel and Hezbollah — an Iran-backed militant political group that dominates southern Lebanon — have been engaged in near daily cross-border exchanges of fire along the Lebanon-Israel border since the start of the war in Gaza. 

The exchange of fire on the border has intensified in recent weeks. 

Israel claims it killed Hezbollah commander in Lebanon

Skip next section Germany resuming work with UNRWA a 'very positive development,' says spokesperson
April 24, 2024

Germany resuming work with UNRWA a 'very positive development,' says spokesperson

Jonathan Fowler, a spokesperson for UNRWA, told DW that the news about Germany's resuming work with the UN agency for Palestinian refugees was a "very positive development."

Fowler said he wanted to stress that "Germany last month had already come forward with fresh funding of €45 million for our work in the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon."

"So what we're talking about today specifically is a kind of unlocking of the remaining suspension on funding for Gaza," which faces a critical humanitarian crisis.

Fowler said the decision by several donor countries to temporarily suspend funding for the agency in February following Israeli allegations that some UNRWA employees were involved in October 7 attacks had led to  "a huge risk of an absolute unraveling of our operations in Gaza."

"And our agency, of course, is the primary humanitarian agency in Gaza, but also working with Palestine refugees across the region," he said.

There was a point in February where it felt like the UNRWA might have to "close up shop," Fowler said, but the gradual lifting of suspension of funds has helped the agency see the situation through.

Fowler called UNRWA an organization "with 30,000 people functioning in a very, very politicized context."

"It's inevitable that things won't be perfect," he said.

Still, Fowler said, UNRWA has seen a "groundswell of support," including "public support."

"We raised record amounts of money from individual and private sector donors in the order of $50 million," he said.  

Schulze: 'Report shows UNRWA is not part of Hamas'

Skip next section EU backs UN call for probe into reported mass graves at Gaza hospital
April 24, 2024

EU backs UN call for probe into reported mass graves at Gaza hospital

The European Union backed a United Nations call to investigate the reported discovery of mass graves at Nasser, in the southern Gazan city of Khan Younis, and al-Shifa Hospital, in Gaza City.

Israeli troops raided both hospitals, saying intelligence indicated that the facilities had housed Hamas militants. Israeli forces have since withdrawn from both facilities following raids. 

"This is something that forces us to call for an independent investigation of all the suspicions and all the circumstances, because indeed it creates the impression that there might have been violations of international human rights committed," EU foreign affairs spokesperson Peter Stano said. 

"That's why it's important to have an independent investigation and to ensure accountability," he added. 

Palestinian civil defense crews this week said they had uncovered hundreds of bodies at three mass graves at the Nasser compound. The Palestinian civil defense crew said about 30 bodies were found in a grave near al-Shifa Hospital.

The Israel Defense Forces told the US broadcaster CNN on Tuesday that any “claim that the IDF buried Palestinian bodies is baseless and unfounded.”

A spokesperson said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk was raising the alarm because "multiple bodies" had been discovered. 

"Some of them had their hands tied, which of course indicates serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and these need to be subjected to further investigations," Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson, said on Tuesday.

Gaza hospital nears collapse amid unabated hostilities

Skip next section Gaza death toll climbs to 34,262, Health Ministry says
April 24, 2024

Gaza death toll climbs to 34,262, Health Ministry says

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza reported that at least 34,262 people had been killed in the enclave since Israeli reprisals began on October 7, following the Hamas-led terror attacks in southern Israel.

The tally includes at least 79 deaths in the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said, adding that 77,229 people have been wounded in Gaza since October 7. 

Supplies airdropped into Gaza as rocket strikes continue

Skip next section Gaza residents could face famine in 6 weeks, says World Food Program official
April 24, 2024

Gaza residents could face famine in 6 weeks, says World Food Program official

The risk of famine in Gaza is increasing daily, and famine could set in in the next six weeks, an official from the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) said.

"We are getting closer by the day to a famine situation," said Gian Carlo Cirri, WFP Geneva director. "There is reasonable evidence that all three famine thresholds  — food insecurity, malnutrition and mortality  — will be passed in the next six weeks."

Cirri said that the only way to avoid a famine in Gaza was to ensure immediate and daily deliveries of food supplies. 

"We need to scale up massively our assistance... But under the current conditions, I'm afraid the situation will further deteriorate," he said. "The conflict makes it difficult and sometimes impossible to reach affected people."

A UN-backed report published in March said famine was imminent and likely to occur by May in northern Gaza and could spread across the enclave by July.

The United Nations and some nongovernmental aid organizations have complained of obstacles in getting aid into and distributing it throughout Gaza. Israel has denied blocking the supplies of humanitarian aid and blames aid groups for inefficiencies in distribution. 

Skip next section Israeli military mobilizes two additional reserve units for fighting in Gaza
April 24, 2024

Israeli military mobilizes two additional reserve units for fighting in Gaza

The Israeli military said it mobilized two additional reserve brigades for fighting in Gaza.

The Israel Defence Forces said the specific brigades were previously deployed to Israel's border with Lebanon but were now training for operations in Gaza.

"The soldiers practiced combat techniques and learned the main insights and lessons from the fighting and ground maneuver in the Gaza Strip so far," the IDF said in a statement.

Israel called up 300,000 reservists to fight for its military six months ago when the war against Hamas began. But most of them have since been allowed to demobilize and return home.

Israel has insisted for months that it plans a ground offensive in Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population of about 2.3 million people are sheltering, many displaced by fighting elsewhere in the Palestinian enclave.

Israel says Hamas militants are holed up in Rafah. The international community including its staunchest ally, the United States, has called for Israeli restraint due to the massive number of civilians seeking refuge in the city.

Skip next section Germany to launch jobs initiative for West Bank Palestinians
April 24, 2024

Germany to launch jobs initiative for West Bank Palestinians

Germany's Development Ministry has announced a new employment initiative for people in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

The initiative aims to create 25,000 new jobs over the next three years and maintain current jobs in the West Bank, which has suffered economic deterioration since the start of the war between Israel and the Hamas militant Islamist group on October 7.

The deal was announced following a meeting between Development Minister Svenja Schulze and Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa.

"Unemployment in the West Bank has almost tripled and now stands at 40%," the German Development Ministry said.

"The terrible terrorist attack by Hamas and the ongoing war in Gaza have caused immeasurable suffering among Israelis and Palestinians," Schulze said.

She pointed to strict access restrictions imposed by Israeli forces and the withdrawal of work permits in Israel or Israeli settlements for more than 170,000 Palestinians, calling the measures "additional social dynamite in an already extremely tense situation."

Schulze argued that the initiative would "quickly create jobs and thus also more stability for the West Bank."

Skip next section World order on the 'brink of collapse', says Amnesty International
April 24, 2024

World order on the 'brink of collapse', says Amnesty International

The post-World War II order is on the "brink of collapse," Amnesty International said, threatened by conflict on multiple fronts, especially Israel's war on Hamas and Russia's war in Ukraine.

"Everything we're witnessing over the last 12 months is indicating that the international global system is on the brink of collapse," Amnesty Secretary General Agnes Callamard said as the group released its annual "State of the World's Human Rights" report. It details Amnesty's assessment of human rights in 155 countries.

"For millions the world over, Gaza now symbolizes utter moral failure by many of the architects of the post-World War Two system," she said in a foreword to the report.

She criticized the United States for shielding Israel from global scrutiny.

"In particular, over the last six months, the United States has shielded and protected the Israeli authorities against scrutiny for the multiple violations committed in Gaza," she said. By using its veto against a much-needed cease-fire, the United States has emptied out the [United Nations] Security Council of what it should be doing."

The report said Hamas had carried out "horrific crimes" on Israeli communities bordering Gaza on October 7, 2023. It also said Israel had responded with "a campaign of collective punishment."

"It is a campaign of deliberate, indiscriminate bombings of civilians and civilian infrastructure, of denial of humanitarian assistance and an engineered famine," Callamard wrote.

She also criticized German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, saying the German diplomat was not pursuing a human rights-based foreign policy and was applying "double standards" in the Israel-Gaza conflict.

The report also pointed to "powerful actors," including Russia and China, which are "demonstrating a willingness to put at risk the entirety of the 1948 rule-based order," Callamard warned.

Skip next section Germany to resume cooperation with UNRWA
April 24, 2024

Germany to resume cooperation with UNRWA

Germany will reestablish cooperation with the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza (UNRWA), the government said on Wednesday. 

Germany was among the countries that cut relations with the agency following Israeli allegations that some UNRWA employees had ties to the Palestinian militant groupHamas. 

"The German government has dealt intensively with the allegations made by Israel against UNRWA and has been in close contact with the Israeli government, the United Nations and other international donors," the German Foreign Office and the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development said in a joint statement.

Other international aid organizations were dependent on UNRWA's operational structures in Gaza and ensuring humanitarian aid in Gaza was "more important than ever" given the situation there, the statement read.

The German government's decision came after an investigation led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna into whether some UNRWA employees were involved in the October 7 attacks by Hamas. The report identified "neutrality-related issues."

The German government urged UNRWA to implement the report's recommendations, including strengthening its internal audit functions and improving external oversight of project management.

"In support of these reforms, the German government will soon continue its cooperation with UNRWA in Gaza, as Australia, Canada, Sweden and Japan, among others, have already done so," the ministries' joint statement read.

Colonna's report said Israel had not offered proof to back its claims that UNRWA staff members were members of terrorist organizations. 

Palestinians return to Khan Younis

Skip next section Israel thanks US Senate for passing military aid bill
April 24, 2024

Israel thanks US Senate for passing military aid bill

Israel’s foreign minister on Wednesday thanked the US Senate for approving the $13 billion (€12.15 billion) in military aid to Israel's war against the Palestinian militant group Hamas, saying it sent a "strong message" to the country's enemies.

"I thank the US Senate for passing the Israel aid package tonight with an overwhelming bipartisan majority," Israel Katz posted on social media site X, formerly Twitter. "The Israel aid package that now passed both houses of Congress is a clear testament to the strength of our alliance and sends a strong message to all our enemies."

US President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill on Wednesday.

The Senate approval comes as Israel’s war against Hamas enters its 201st day. The war was triggered after Hamas carried out unprecedented attacks on Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking some 240 hostages. The European Union as well as the United States, Germany and several other countries classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.

The aid has become even more urgent "for Israel, which just faced unprecedented attacks from Iran," Biden said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the $95 billion package meant for US allies also includes humanitarian relief aid for the citizens of Gaza.

The Palestinian territory's Hamas-led Health Ministry said 34,183 people have been killed in Israel's military campaign in Gaza, most of them women and children.