Scotland First Minister Humza Yousaf slams UK paper for 'outrageous smear' over Gaza funds

Scotland First Minister Humza Yousaf slams UK paper for 'outrageous smear' over Gaza funds
Humza Yousaf said the accusations that went against official advice concerning donating to UNRWA was fuelled by Islamophobia and peddling to the far-right.
3 min read
11 March, 2024
Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf said the accusations will encourage further harassment targeting him and his family [Getty/file photo]

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf has slammed what he described as "an Islamophobic attack" targeting him after a UK newspaper said a donation to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) was a "conflict of interest".

Yousaf, whose in-laws were trapped in the coastal enclave for four weeks during the beginning of Israel's war in Gaza, blasted The Daily Telegraph newspaper for attempting to "smear him and his family" and for tying the ₤250,000 donation to "terrorism".

The paper accused Yousaf of overriding officials' recommendations to give UNICEF, a different UN agency, between £100,000 and £200,000.

The debate comes after the US and other Western countries blocked funding to UNRWA over Israeli so-far unfounded allegations that some aid workers took part in Hamas's 7 October attacks, crippling humanitarian efforts in Gaza.

In a number of statements on X, formerly known as Twitter, the first minister said: "Most of my political life, I've battled insinuations from sections of the media desperate to link me to terrorism despite campaigning my whole life against it."

Yousaf, the first Muslim to hold domestic Scottish politics' highest post, said the story "peddles far-right conspiracy theories" used against him because of his religion and ethnic background.

He also warned it might "encourage a further pile-on of abuse" that him and his family were subject to throughout the period his in-laws - Maged and Elizabeth El-Nakla - were trapped in the enclave.

The pair eventually returned to Scotland after following evacuation efforts for British nationals from the FCDO.

"For the Telegraph to give oxygen to these smears is depressing. It will not stop me from raising my voice for the plight of the people of Gaza or for continuing to call for the immediate release of hostages. Aid must go to the people of Gaza suffering unimaginable horror," he added.

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"To be clear, the Scottish government gave money to Gaza, like virtually every government in the West, because of the unarguable humanitarian catastrophe that has unfolded there," he said on X.

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has been described as dire, following a severe lack of food, water and fuel in the enclave.

Over 3o,000 Palestinians have been killed and most of the population displaced, many living in overcrowded makeshift camps in the southern city of Rafah.

Additionally, UN agencies and the international community have warned that a famine in the enclave was inevitable, following reports of malnutrition, people forced to skip meals and for families resorting to eating animal feed in a bid to survive.

Conservative MP Stephen Kerr claimed that that the funding decision suggested the first minister was "prepared to bend the rules" and called the issue "a matter of scrutiny".

Yousaf stressed that the funding given to UNRWA was "always intended for the people of Gaza" despite the accusations that he went against proposed advice to donate to UNICEF instead.

The UNRWA agency was subject to controversy after Israel claimed that a dozen of its employees were involved in the 7 October attacks, prompting a number of counties to suspend funding.

Yousaf has made multiple calls for a ceasefire in Gaza ever since the war began, and has criticised both the Conservative and Labour parties for their pro-Israeli stances and lack of action over the atrocities in the enclave.