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Sweden under fire for suspending financial support to UNRWA

Anadolu Agency EUROPE
Published February 12,2024
(AA File Photo)

Sweden has come under sharp criticism from a number of experts over its decision to suspend financial support to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA, due to Tel Aviv's allegations that some of its staff members were involved in Hamas's Oct. 7 military operation against Israel.

"It is catastrophic that Sweden has cut humanitarian aid to UNRWA, above all because it has not even seen any evidence of Israel's accusations," Beatrice Fihn, a lawyer and former executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) who specializes in international law and works for the law firm Lex International in Geneva, told the local Expressen newspaper.

"There is no other organization that has the built-up capacity to get the necessary help out quickly," Fihn added.

Fifteen of UNRWA's biggest donors, including Sweden, have suspended payments to the agency after Israel alleged that 12 of the organization's employees were involved in the Palestinian group Hamas's Oct. 7 cross-border incursion into Israel which triggered a war between the two sides.

UNRWA subsequently fired nine employees but claimed that this was due to how seriously it took the allegations rather than whether they were accurate.

After reviewing Israel's charges, Britain's public service station Channel 4 concluded there was a lack of evidence that they were true.

"For me, it is important that Swedish aid should always maintain a high quality and never even come close to terrorism," Johan Forssell, minister for International Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, told Expressen.

UNRWA has played an absolutely central role, and in the short term, it is not possible to replace the organization's work, Jakob Wernerman, director of humanitarian assistance at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), told the newspaper.

Having said that, it is not only UNRWA that has been able to carry out humanitarian activities in Gaza, he added.

Anders Persson, a researcher and senior lecturer at Linnaeus University in Sweden who specializes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said he is not surprised by the government's decision.

"The Palestine issue has been toxic in Sweden for a long time. And these kinds of revelations, assuming they are true, block that. UNRWA is an organization that has had problems in the past. At the same time, it fulfills important social functions in the Palestinian territories," he said.

He believes, however, that support will be resumed.

"The Western powers, which include Sweden, have two different interests here. Partly it is that the war does not worsen and partly that it does not spread to other parts of the Middle East. So in light of that, I think it will be resumed. The US's wish is for more aid to enter Gaza rather than less, and I find it difficult to see it working without UNRWA," he added.

Johnny Ludvigsson, a senior professor of pediatrics at Linkoping University, wrote a letter to the editor of the Dagens Nyheter newspaper on Sunday urging Sweden to resume payments to UNRWA.

"Sweden, like some other countries, has stopped payments to UNRWA following suspicions that 12 of the agency's employees participated in the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. After 'suspicions' based on the fact that Israel, without evidence, made this accusation. And because UNRWA, to avoid criticism and to avoid any country stopping the payments, quickly dismissed these 12 individuals pending an investigation, Sweden has taken it as further evidence that these 12 (out of 30,000 employees) are guilty," he said.

"Therefore, we now let thousands of innocent people, many children (!), starve and die of infections and lack of medical care as long as they are not bombed to death or shot. At the same time, everyone seems to agree: No other organization can replace the work of UNRWA.

"Sweden is led by politicians who seem to lack moral backbone, but it is not too late to change their minds. Resume payments to UNRWA now! And preferably in the same class as Norway!" he added.