Palestinians criticize suspension of UNRWA funding by some Western nations

Palestinians criticize suspension of UNRWA funding by some Western nations – Al Jazeera English

Senior Palestinian officials and Hamas have criticized the decision of some Western countries to stop funding the United Nations relief agency for Palestinians, calling for an immediate reversal of the “great” risky move.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) previously said it had opened an investigation after Israel claimed that some of its staff were involved in the October 7 attacks that sparked the current conflict.

This has led a number of Western countries to withdraw or temporarily suspend funding to the organization, a move the UNRWA chief described as “shocking”.

“The suspension of funds endangers humanitarian work in the region, particularly in Gaza,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said in a statement late Saturday, calling on countries that have frozen funds to “reconsider their decisions.” There is a risk of a mass starvation attack in Gaza.

Earlier, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary General Hussein al-Sheikh said the country's decision “carries major political and humanitarian aid risks.”

“At this special time and in view of the ongoing aggression against the Palestinian people, we need the greatest possible support for this international organization and must not stop its support and assistance,” he wrote on X, calling on countries “to immediately reverse their decision .” “.

The United States, Canada, Italy and Australia said they would stop funding the agency, while European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the 27-member bloc would “consider further steps and lessons learned based on the results of the full and comprehensive investigation”. “.

The United Kingdom, Finland, the Netherlands and Germany then also joined the list of countries pausing their financial support for the UN agency, whose facilities housing displaced Palestinians have been repeatedly targeted in Israeli airstrikes.

However, Ireland and Norway expressed their continued support for UNRWA, saying the organization was doing important work to help displaced Palestinians in urgent need of assistance in Gaza.


Hamas on Saturday criticized Israeli “threats” against the organization after Israel accused several UNRWA employees of involvement in the October 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel, which authorities there said killed about 1,140 people.

“We ask the United Nations and international organizations not to give in to Israel’s threats and blackmail,” Hamas’s press office said in a post on Telegram.

On Friday, UNRWA said it had fired several staff members and launched an investigation into the allegations.

“Israeli authorities have provided UNRWA with information about the suspected involvement of several UNRWA staff in the horrific attacks on Israel on October 7,” Lazzarini said.

“To protect the agency’s ability to provide humanitarian assistance, I have decided to immediately terminate the contracts of these employees and launch an investigation to immediately find out the truth.”

He did not disclose the number of staff or the nature of their alleged involvement, but said that “any UNRWA staff involved in terrorist attacks” would be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.

Shortly afterwards, the US announced on Friday that it was halting funding to UNRWA due to allegations against 12 staff members who “may have been involved” in the Hamas attack.

Canada's International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen also said Friday that Ottawa had “temporarily suspended” the provision of additional funding while UNRWA conducts a thorough investigation.

Auxiliary stop

On Saturday, the UK said it had joined the US in “temporarily suspending” future funding to UNRWA, which is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from UN member countries.

“The United Kingdom is appalled by allegations that UNRWA staff were involved in the attack on Israel on October 7, a despicable act of terrorism that the British government has repeatedly condemned,” the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement.

Italy's Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said his country was joining its allies in cutting its support for the agency. “Allied countries have made a similar decision. “We are committed to providing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian population while protecting Israel’s security,” he wrote on X.

Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong said she was “deeply concerned” about the allegations against UNRWA but welcomed the agency's investigation. “We are speaking with partners and will temporarily suspend the disbursement of recent funding,” she wrote on X.

The Dutch Minister for Trade and Development, Geoffrey van Leeuwen, announced a funding freeze for the duration of the investigation. “The accusation is that the attack on October 7th was carried out with UN money, with our money,” he told public broadcaster NOS on Saturday.

The Foreign Office also paused funding with the reason: “Until the investigation has been completed, Germany, in coordination with other donor countries, will temporarily not approve any new funds for UNRWA in Gaza.”

“Cessation” of UNRWA activities

Israel has praised the countries that have stopped supporting the UN agency and said it wants to completely end its operations after the end of the war on Gaza.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Israel aims to “promote policies that ensure UNRWA will not be part of the day after tomorrow, while addressing other contributing factors.”

“We will work to build bipartisan support in the United States, the European Union and other nations worldwide for this policy aimed at stopping UNRWA’s activities in Gaza,” he said.

UNRWA was founded upon the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 to provide education, health care, social services and jobs to hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced Palestinian refugees. Operations began in 1950.

The financially strapped agency now supports nearly six million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the occupied West Bank and neighboring Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

The organization's shelters in Gaza were also repeatedly attacked by Israeli missiles during the war, despite requests for safe passage to deliver humanitarian aid and aid.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has pledged to conduct an “urgent and comprehensive independent review of UNRWA” following Israel’s allegations.

Israeli attacks on Gaza have killed at least 26,257 people and injured 64,797 since October 7.