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U.S., U.K. among 9 countries pausing funding to UNRWA amid allegations 12 employees were part of Oct. 7 attack

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East said it terminated the contracts of the people alleged to have participated in the incursion.
2023 Israel-Hamas War
Workers of the UNRWA pack medical aid at a warehouse in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza, in October, and prepare it for distribution to hospitals. Majdi Fathi / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Nine countries have paused future funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East amid an investigation into allegations some workers participated in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The agency, known as the UNRWA, is entrusted with moving much-needed humanitarian aid into Gaza, which has been under intense bombardment by the Israel Defense Forces in its mission to annihilate Hamas militants after the October strike.

The countries pausing funding include the United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Australia, Italy, Canada, Finland and the Netherlands.

Japan announced on Sunday that it “decided to suspend additional funding to UNRWA for the time being.”

France did not announce that it will suspend funding to the UNRWA, but it’s Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs said the nation “has not planned a new payment in the first half of 2024 and will decide when the time comes what action to take in conjunction with the United Nations and the main donors.”

The UNRWA said Friday that Israeli authorities provided information that several of its employees were involved in the attacks. The allegations were made against 12 employees, according to the U.S. State Department.

Of the 12, nine were terminated, one is confirmed dead and the identity of two is being clarified, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement Sunday.

The U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services will conduct an investigation into the allegation, Guterres and the agency have said.

“Any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution,” Guterres said in the statement.

More details about the workers, including how they are accused of participating in the Oct. 7 attacks, was not available.

Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, has accused the UNRWA of serving as the “civilian arm of Hamas in Gaza,” a charge the humanitarian aid agency has vehemently denied.

Israel has long accused the UNRWA of colluding with Hamas, the militant group that governs Gaza and launched the attacks on Oct. 7.

Palestinian women walk in front of the headquarters of the
Palestinian women walk in front of the headquarters of the UNRWA during a protest against the reduction in food aid distribution in June.Yousef Masoud / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

On Saturday, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said the funding pause from countries that account for much of its budget will serve to exacerbate the region’s humanitarian crisis, fueled by the cutting off of fuel and supplies.

“It is shocking to see a suspension of funds to the Agency in reaction to allegations against a small group of staff, especially given the immediate action that UNRWA took by terminating their contracts and asking for a transparent independent investigation,” he said in a statement.

He urged the countries to reconsider.

“UNRWA is the primary humanitarian agency in Gaza, with over 2 million people depending on it for their sheer survival,” Lazzarini said.

The agency said it has a staff of about 13,000 in Gaza, about 3,000 of whom are continuing to work in the enclave. “UNRWA shares the list of all its staff with host countries every year, including Israel,” Lazzarini said in the statement. “The Agency never received any concerns on specific staff members.”

Nearly 90% of the humanitarian agency’s budget is funded by U.N. member nations, with the United States, Germany, the European Union, Sweden and Norway listed by the UNRWA as its top five contributors.

The eight nations account for more than $600 million of the UNRWA’s annual funding, or more than half of its estimated annual budget of $1.1 billion.

The nations have said they are awaiting the outcome of the investigation. “We must make sure that not a single euro of Finland’s money goes to Hamas or other terrorists,” Finland’s minister for foreign trade and development, Ville Tavio, said in a statement Saturday.

In announcing Germany’s funding pause, its foreign ministry said it would maintain humanitarian support through funding to the International Committee of the Red Cross and UNICEF.

Netherlands Minister for Foreign Trade Geoffrey van Leeuwen said his country would continue to provide civilians in Gaza with aid “through other means.”

Hamas in a statement condemned the termination of the employees’ contracts “based on information derived from the Zionist enemy.”

The health ministry in Gaza said the enclave’s death toll since Oct. 7 is over 26,000. Nearly 85% of its population of 2.3 million has been displaced by the war.

Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary General Hussein al-Sheikh said in a post on social media that the funding pause is coming at a particularly bad time — as Israel engaged in “continuing aggression against the Palestinian people.”

He also urged the nations pausing funding to reverse course.