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More countries join US in suspending funding to UN agency

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, the main organization aiding Gaza’s population, said nine countries suspended their funding following Israel’s allegations that a number of Gaza staff members participated in the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack that sparked the war. Those include the United States, Britain, Italy, Finland, Australia and Canada.

Agency chief Philippe Lazzarini said it would be “immensely irresponsible” to sanction it and the community it serves, especially after it quickly fired the “small group” of staffers. The 13,000-strong agency, which relies almost entirely on countries’ contributions, said it now runs shelters for over 1 million people and its lifeline “can collapse anytime now.”

The Hamas terrorist attack in southern Israel killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and about 250 hostages were taken.

More than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said. It does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its tolls.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for civilian casualties, saying the terrorists embed themselves in the local population. Israel says its air and ground offensive in Gaza has killed more than 9,000 terrorists.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday pushed back after the International Court of Justice ruling to limit death and destruction in the military’s Gaza offensive, declaring that “we decide and act according to what is required for our security.”

Israel’s military said it had conducted several “targeted raids on terror targets” in the southern city of Khan Younis in addition to an airstrike in nearby Rafah targeting a Hamas commander. Witnesses said three Palestinians were killed in that airstrike.

Israel’s military is under increasing scrutiny now that the top United Nations court has asked Israel for a compliance report in a month. The court’s binding ruling on Friday stopped short of ordering a cease-fire.

The case brought by South Africa to the U.N. court alleged Israel is committing genocide against Gaza’s people, which Israel vehemently denies. A final ruling is expected to take years.

The court ordered Israel to urgently get aid to Gaza.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has increasingly called for restraint and for more humanitarian aid to be allowed into Gaza while supporting the offensive.

More mediation lies ahead in search of a deal to secure the release of hostages who remain captive in Gaza. Over 100 were released in a swap for Palestinian prisoners during a week-long cease-fire in November. An unspecified number of the remaining 136 are believed to be dead.

The U.S. CIA director will meet in Europe with the head of the intelligence agencies of Israel and Egypt and with the prime minister of Qatar, according to three people familiar with the matter who insisted on anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks.

Netanyahu in his address said he would not take back “a single word” of his earlier criticism of Qatar, again accusing it of hosting Hamas leaders and funding Hamas.

“If they position themselves as a mediator, so please, let them prove it and bring back the hostages, and in the meantime deliver the medicines to them,” he said.

Other Israelis again gathered in Tel Aviv and outside Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem to call for new elections, frustrated with the government’s failure to bring all hostages home. Israel also was marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, alongside other countries around the world.

Hamas terrorists say they will only release the hostages in exchange for an end to the war and the release of large numbers of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Shurafa reported from Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip. Aamer Madhani, Matthew Lee and Zeke Miller in Washington, Julia Frankel in Jerusalem and Elena Becatoros in Athens, Greece, contributed.

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