UN urges reversal of funding pause for Palestinian refugee agency

UN urges reversal of funding pause for Palestinian refugee agency

DOHA/GENEVA (Reuters): U.N. officials urged countries to reconsider a pause in funding for the U.N. agency for Palestinians on Sunday, pledging that any staff found involved in Hamas’ attack on Israel would be punished and warning that aid for some two million people in Gaza was at stake.

At least nine countries, including top donors the U.S. and Germany, have paused funding for the UNRWA refugee agency after allegations by Israel that a dozen of its 13,000 staff in Gaza were involved in the Oct. 7 rampage.

“While I understand their concerns – I was myself horrified by these accusations – I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday, promising to hold to account “any U.N. employee involved in acts of terror”.

He said this could include criminal prosecution – a rare move within the global body since most staff enjoy functional immunity, although Guterres has the power to waive it.

Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA commissioner-general, also urged countries to “reconsider their decisions before UNRWA is forced to suspend its humanitarian response.” A U.N. investigation into the Israeli allegations is underway.

More than 26,000 people have been killed in Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in Gaza, the enclave’s health ministry said. With flows of aid like food and medicine into the territory just a trickle of pre-conflict levels, deaths from preventable diseases as well as the risk of famine are growing, aid officials say.

Since the Oct. 7 attacks, which killed 1,200 people in Israel, most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have become more reliant on the aid UNRWA provides, including about one million who have fled Israeli bombardments sheltering in its facilities.

Responding to Guterres’ statement, Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan called on all donor states to suspend their support and demand an in-depth investigation into “the involvement of all UNRWA employees in terror”.

He added in a statement that Guterres’ appeal for continued funding for the agency had “proven once again that the security of the citizens of Israel is not really important for him”.

Israel has not yet publicly given details of UNRWA staff members’ alleged involvement in the attack on Israel. Guterres said 12 staff members had been implicated and that nine had been terminated, one was dead and the identities of the other two were being clarified.

Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy told Reuters that to his knowledge the intelligence that led the U.S. to cut off its funding had not yet been declassified, but that an Israeli briefing would be dedicated to this topic later in the week.