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Blinken urges UNRWA to immediately probe allegations

January 29, 2024

The US Secretary of State urged the UN agency to look into the "deeply troubling" allegations against its staff with haste. Israel has accused 12 UNRWA staff members of involvement in the October 7 attacks.

Antony Blinken
Blinken acknowledged the importance of UNRWA, urging it to immediately address the 'deeply troubling' allegationsImage: Evelyn Hockstein/REUTERS

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday asked the United Nations' agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) to immediately look into the "deeply troubling" allegations that some of its staff were involved in the deadly October 7 attacks in southern Israel.

"It is imperative that UNRWA immediately, as it said it would, investigate, that it hold people accountable as necessary, and that it review its procedures," Blinken said at a news conference.

Last week, the US announced it was temporarily suspending funds to the agency, pending an investigation, alongside several other donors.

Blinken stressed the importance of UNRWA, which provides education, medical care and welfare services to hundreds of thousands of Gaza's 2.3 million people. The agency employs some 30,000 people across the region, including 13,000 in besieged Gaza. Last week, Israel accused 12 UNRWA staff members of involvement in the October 7 attacks in southern Israel.

"UNRWA has played and continues to play an absolutely indispensable role in trying to make sure that men, women and children who so desperately need assistance in Gaza actually get it," Blinken told reporters.

United Nations open probe into Gaza aid agency

Blinken sees hope for Gaza truce

The US secretary of state also addressed weekend talks in Paris seeking a cessation of fighting in Gaza, voicing hope for a deal.

"Very important, productive work has been done. And there is some real hope going forward," Blinken told reporters. "Hamas will have to make its own decisions. I can just tell you that there is good, strong alignment among the countries involved that this is a good, strong proposal."

Earlier in the day, Blinken met Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani during a visit to Washington. 

Al Thani was among the attendees of the Paris talks, alongside CIA chief William Burns and top officials from Israel and Egypt. He said "good progress" had been made and the parties were "hoping to relay this proposal to Hamas and to get them to a place where they engage positively and constructively in the process."

Hamas, the group behind the October 7 attacks which Israel says killed nearly 1,200, is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the US, Germany and the European Union.

Israel's military campaigns in Gaza in response to the attack have thus far left over 26,600 people killed, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.

Without more aid, Ukraine gains could be lost

Blinken also addressed the war in Ukraine, stressing that Kyiv's gains over two years of fighting could be lost without renewed US funding. President Joe Biden's administration has struggled to approve new funds for the war from the Republican Congress.

"Without it, simply put, everything that Ukrainians achieved and that we've helped them achieve will be in jeopardy," Blinken said at the joint news conference with NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg.

Blinken warned of the dangers allowing Russian President Vladimir Putin to "somehow outlast Ukraine and outlast us."

"Absent that supplemental, we're going to be sending a strong and wrong message to all of our adversaries that we are not serious about the defense of freedom, the defense of democracy," he said.

Stoltenberg said he would meet US lawmakers on Tuesday and make the case that support for Ukraine was "in our own security interest."

"It will be a tragedy for Ukrainians if President Putin wins but it will also make the world more dangerous and all of us more insecure," Stoltenberg said.

"It will embolden other authoritarian leaders, not only President Putin, but also North Korea, Iran and China to use force," he said.

rmt/jsi (AFP, Reuters)