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ConflictsMiddle East

Guterres urges continued support for UNRWA

January 28, 2024

A string of countries, including Germany, have paused funding to the UN's Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza following allegations some of its employees were involved in the Hamas terror attacks on Israel.

Aid workers sit in the back of a UNRWA truck
The UN's Palestinian refugee agency provides critical aid to people in the Gaza StripImage: picture alliance/dpa

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on donor states to "guarantee the continuity" of the operations of the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA).

The plea came after multiple countries paused their funding for the organization following Israeli allegations that some of the agency's staffers were involved in the terror attacks on Israel carried out by Hamas militants on October 7.

"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," Guterres said in a statement.

He also vowed that "any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution."

UNRWA's humanitarian work remains critical in Gaza, UN warns

Which countries have halted funding?

France became the latest country to suspend funding for the embattled agency, with its foreign ministry saying it "will decide when the time comes of the action to take together with the United Nations and the main donors,"

Germany, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Finland suspended their funding to the aid agency on Saturday.

That followed a similar move by the United States, Australia and Canada.

"These decisions threaten our ongoing humanitarian work across the region including and especially in the Gaza Strip," the organization's head, Philippe Lazzarini, said in a statement on Saturday.

He added that 2 million people in Gaza depend on aid from the UNRWA and that this operation is now "collapsing."

The UN agency employs around 13,000 people in the besieged territory and has been the main source of humanitarian aid for Gaza's population

Gaza hospital nears collapse amid unabated hostilities

What are the allegations?

Israel has alleged that several UNRWA employees participated in the October attacks on Israeli communities. The rampage saw Hamas militants break through a security fence into southern Israel, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,100 people and some 240 people being taken hostage.

The UNRWA said it was carrying out a thorough investigation into the allegations.

Further details of the staffers' alleged role in the violence have not been revealed.

Guterres confirmed that of the 12 employees cited in the allegations, nine had been fired, one was dead, and the identity of the two others was being clarified.

"The abhorrent alleged acts of these staff members must have consequences," Guterres said.

"But the tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA, many in some of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be penalized," he said. "The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met."

Israel responded to the Hamas attacks by launching a military offensive in Gaza. More than 26,000 people — mostly Palestinian civilians and including over 10,000 children — have died as a result of Israel's military campaign, according to the Hamas-run health authorities.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Germany, the US, Israel, and several other countries. 

nm/sms (Reuters, AFP)