Head of UNRWA calls on countries to reconsider ‘shocking’ pause in funding

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  • January 28, 2024
  • Comments Off on Head of UNRWA calls on countries to reconsider ‘shocking’ pause in funding
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Palestinians displaced by the Israeli air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip walk through a makeshift tent camp in Rafah (Fatima Shbair/AP)


The head of the UN relief agency in Gaza has called on countries that have suspended funding to reconsider their “shocking” decision.

Philippe Lazzarini said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is depended upon by more than two million people for their survival.

It comes after Britain joined nations including the US, Australia, Italy and Canada in temporarily pausing support for the organisation over claims that a number of its staff were involved in Hamas’ October 7 attack.

The UNRWA has sacked several of its employees in Gaza suspected of taking part in last year’s assault by Hamas and other militants on southern Israel.

In a statement on Saturday, Mr Lazzarini said: “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.

“The United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), the highest investigative authority in the UN system, has already been seized of this very serious matter.”

He added: “It would be immensely irresponsible to sanction an Agency and an entire community it serves because of allegations of criminal acts against some individuals, especially at a time of war, displacement and political crises in the region.”

The UK Foreign Office said earlier in a statement that it was “appalled” by allegations against UNRWA staff and would temporarily halt funding while an investigation takes place.

The relief agency has played a key role in providing aid for the enclave’s population amid the humanitarian disaster caused by Israel’s offensive in the wake of the October 7 attack.

Mr Lazzarini said it had ordered an investigation after Israel provided information alleging several employees played a role in Hamas’s assault.

The US state department said claims had been made against 12 employees.

UNRWA has 13,000 staff in Gaza, almost all of them Palestinians, ranging from teachers in schools that the agency runs, to doctors, medical staff and aid workers.

In its unprecedented October 7 attack, Hamas broke through the security fence surrounding Gaza and stormed nearby Israeli communities, killing about 1,200 people and kidnapping some 250.

Israel’s offensive – one of the deadliest and most destructive in recent history – has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians and left more than 64,400 wounded, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with the war until it realises its goals of destroying Hamas and bringing home all remaining hostages.