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Italy to resume funding for UN agency for Palestinian refugees

Mohammed Mustafa was on his first trip to Europe since being appointed by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in March
— Rome (AFP)

Italy said Saturday it would resume funding for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), as Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa made a visit to Rome.

"Italy has decided to resume financing specific projects intended for assistance to Palestinian refugees but only after rigorous controls that guarantee that not even a penny risks ending up supporting terrorism," Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said.

Mustafa met with Tajani and then with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on what was his first trip to Europe since being appointed by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in March.

Tajani said he had informed Mustafa that Rome had "arranged new funding for the Palestinian population, of a total of 35 million euros ($38 million)".

"Of this, five million will be allocated to UNRWA," he said.

The remaining 30 million euros will be allocated to Italy's "Food for Gaza" initiative in coordination with UN aid agencies.

UNRWA, which coordinates nearly all aid to Gaza, has been in crisis since January, when Israel accused about a dozen of its 13,000 Gaza employees of being involved in the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas.

That led many nations, including top donor the United States, to abruptly suspend funding to the agency, threatening its efforts to deliver aid in Gaza, although several have since resumed payments.

- 'Irreplaceable and indispensable' -

An independent review of UNRWA, led by French former foreign minister Catherine Colonna, found some "neutrality-related issues" but said Israel had "yet to provide supporting evidence" for its leading allegations.

It also said UNRWA was "irreplaceable and indispensable to Palestinians' human and economic development"... and was, for many, "a humanitarian lifeline".

Created in 1949, the agency employs around 30,000 people in the occupied Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria

During her meeting with Mustafa, Meloni -- whose country holds the G7 presidency this year -- reiterated Rome's support for all efforts to secure a "sustainable ceasefire" in the Hamas-Israel war.

In a statement released by her office, she repeated calls for the release of the hostages taken by Hamas and more humanitarian assistance for besieged Gaza.

Meloni also emphasised the importance of restarting the political process, with the goal of a two-state solution.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas's October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,857 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to data from the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.