Eight countries have halted future funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East amid an investigation into allegations that some workers participated in the October 7 attack on Israel.
The agency, known as UNRWA, is charged with transporting badly needed humanitarian aid to Gaza, which has been under intense bombardment by the Israel Defense Forces in its mission to eliminate Hamas militants after the October raid.
Countries that have temporarily halted funding include the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, Canada, Finland and the Netherlands.
UNRWA said on Friday that the Israeli authorities had provided information indicating that a number of its employees were involved in the attacks. These charges were brought against 12 employees, according to the US State Department.
UNRWA said it had terminated the workers' contracts and that the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services would conduct Investigate this allegation.
No further details were available about the workers, including how they were accused of participating in the October 7 attacks.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz accused UNRWA of acting as a “civilian arm of Hamas in Gaza,” something the humanitarian aid agency strongly denied.
Israel has long accused UNRWA of colluding with Hamas, the armed group that rules Gaza, and launched the attacks on October 7.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said on Saturday that halting funding from countries that account for a large portion of its budget will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the region, which is fueled by cuts in fuel and supplies.
“It is shocking to see the agency’s funds suspended in response to allegations against a small group of staff, especially in light of UNRWA’s immediate action to terminate their contracts and demand an independent and transparent investigation,” he said in a statement. .
He urged countries to reconsider.
“UNRWA is the main humanitarian agency in Gaza, with more than two million people relying on it for their survival,” Lazzarini said.
The agency said it has about 13,000 employees in Gaza, of whom about 3,000 continue to work in the Strip. “UNRWA shares the list of all its employees with host countries every year, including Israel,” Lazzarini said in the statement. “The agency has never received any concerns about specific employees.”
Nearly 90% of the humanitarian agency's budget is funded by UN member states, with UNRWA listing the United States, Germany, the European Union, Sweden and Norway as the top five contributors.
The eight countries represent more than $600 million in UNRWA's annual funding, or more than half of its estimated $1.1 billion annual budget.
The countries said they were awaiting the outcome of the investigation. “We have to make sure that not a single euro of Finland's money goes to Hamas or other terrorists,” Finland's Minister of Foreign Trade and Development, Phil Tavio, said in a statement on Saturday.
In announcing the cessation of German funding, the German Foreign Ministry said that it would continue humanitarian support by funding the International Committee of the Red Cross and UNICEF.
Dutch Foreign Trade Minister Geoffrey van Leeuwen said that his country will continue to provide aid to civilians in Gaza “through other means.”
In a statement, Hamas condemned the termination of its employees’ contracts “based on information derived from the Zionist enemy.”
The Gaza Ministry of Health said that the death toll in the Strip since October 7 exceeded 26,000 people. The war displaced approximately 85% of its population of 2.3 million people.
Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary-General Hussein Al-Sheikh said in a social media post that the funding halt comes at a very bad time – as Israel engages in “continuous aggression against the Palestinian people.”
He also urged countries that halted funding to reverse course.
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