Humza Yousaf: Scottish first minister denies conflict of interest over £250K Gaza donation

Scottish first minister Humza Yousaf has condemned accusations there was a conflict of interest over a £250,000 Scottish government donation to an aid agency working in Gaza as "smears" and "Islamophobic attacks".

Mr Yousaf said on X on Saturday that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) played no part in securing the release of his in-laws, Elizabeth and Maged El-Nakla, who were among millions under siege in Gaza at the time, but fled the enclave via the Rafah crossing the following day.

Their freedom, he said, was down to "the hard work of the crisis team" at the foreign office, and "to suggest otherwise is a flat-out lie and smear".

The Telegraph said on Saturday that he was being accused of ignoring officials, who had advised him to give UNICEF, a different UN agency, between £100,000 and £200,000, and told advisers he was about to meet UNWRA delegates in Edinburgh, and therefore, "we should just announce an extra £250k to them".

The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader described these claims as "outrageous".

The donation to UNRWA was announced by officials at Holyrood in response to a flash appeal for emergency aid as he met officials from the organisation on 2 November.

At the time, more than a million Palestinians in Gaza faced displacement amid the conflict with Israel.

On X, the first minister said he did not usually respond to "smears" but felt he had to address it, writing: "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.

"The latest smear from The Telegraph is just a continuation of these Islamophobic attacks."

In another post, he said: "To peddle far-right conspiracies in a newspaper is outrageous and will only encourage a further pile-on of vile abuse my family and I have suffered.

"Due to my faith and race, there will always be those, particularly on the far right, who will desperately try to "prove" my loyalties lie elsewhere. That I am a fifth columnist in the only country I call home, the country I love and the country I have the privilege of leading."

The Scottish government donated to Gaza relief "like virtually every government in the West," he said.

The first minister had "some serious explaining to do" and "may very well have broken the (Scottish ministerial) code", according to Conservative MSP Stephen Kerr, who sits on Holyrood's standards committee.

But a spokesperson for Mr Yousaf dismissed that as a regurgitation of "far-right conspiracy theories to be found online."

All international development fund allocations are guided by a rigorous process, they said.

"UNRWA had no role in the situation regarding the first minister's extended family and any suggestion of a conflict of interest in this matter would be completely untrue, and simply a regurgitation of ludicrous far-right conspiracy theories to be found online," the spokesperson said.

The decision was made on discussions with UNRWA, UNICEF and the British Red Cross, they said.

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In January, an Israeli intelligence report accused UNRWA staff of involvement in the 7 October attacks by Hamas.

A number of countries, including the UK, have announced a pause in support for the relief agency while an investigation takes place.

Several of its employees had undertaken a review but urged donors to reconsider the funding suspension as it seeks to provide humanitarian assistance in Gaza.

Around 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 were abducted in the Hamas assault, which triggered the fighting.

Gaza's Hamas-run health authorities say more than 30,800 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the Israeli military response.