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Gaza aid agency UNRWA ‘extremely desperate’ as more countries cut funding

Gaza health officials say more than 26,000 people have been killed by Israeli attacks since 7 October

Athena Stavrou
Monday 29 January 2024 20:34 GMT
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Romania is the latest country to suspend funding to the humanitarian aid group, following in the footsteps of the UK, US, Germany, Italy and Japan
Romania is the latest country to suspend funding to the humanitarian aid group, following in the footsteps of the UK, US, Germany, Italy and Japan (AP)

Gaza humanitarian aid organisation, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) says it is “extremely desperate” as more countries cut support amid claims its staff were involved in the 7 October attacks.

Romania is the latest country to suspend funding to the humanitarian aid group, following in the footsteps of the UK, US, Germany, Italy and Japan. The withdrawal of funds comes after an Israeli intelligence dossier alleged that nearly 200 UNRWA workers are Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives.

The dossier also claims 12 workers crossed into Israel on 7 October when 1,200 people were killed by Hamas gunmen in Israel.

About 1.7 million people have been displaced from their homes in Gaza and forced to flee to humanitarian shelters, some of which are run by UNRWA (AFP via Getty Images)

Since then, more than 26,000 people have been killed in Gaza by Israeli attacks, according to health officials. Another 1.7 million people have been displaced from their homes and have been forced to flee to humanitarian shelters, some of which are run by UNRWA.

A spokesperson warned of the consequences of countries withdrawing backing for the organisation.

“We are extremely desperate,” Juliette Touma, the director of communications at UNRWA, told the BBC. “It has come at a time when the humanitarian needs in Gaza are growing by the hour. People continue to be displaced. People are hungry. The clock is ticking fast towards famine.

“We are doing everything possible to avert us from getting towards famine. But this lack of funding that we have been faced with now, when at least 10 of the largest donors have put a temporary pause on the funding, this is going to have very, very serious repercussions on what is, right now, the largest humanitarian operation in Gaza.”

The agency has sacked nine of its staff over the allegations and says it is investigating.

The UN said it was reviewing funding in light of the claims and said no financial support is expected until the end of February.

“The European Commission will determine upcoming funding decisions for UNRWA in light of the very serious allegations made on 24 January relating to the involvement of UNRWA staff in the heinous 7 October attacks,” a statement read.

“The Commission will review the matter in light of the outcome of the investigation announced by the UN and the actions it will take. The Commission welcomes the information provided by UNRWA as well as the launch of the investigation.”

No 10 said no aid funding to UNRWA has been scheduled for the coming weeks (PA Archive)

The UN said that it expects UNRWA will agree to an audit of the agency and that a review of all staff should be launched. It added that humanitarian aid to Palestinians will continue through partner organisations.

Downing Street said £16m has been given to the agency since the Hamas attack on Israel in October, but a spokesperson for the prime minister said no further funding is expected to be released to the agency in the coming weeks.

“There is a pause in place and we are conducting an investigation,” he said. “Obviously, we are in contact with our Israeli counterparts and UNRWA as well.

“My understanding is that we have committed £16m to UNRWA following the Hamas terror attacks, but this was dispersed before the allegations came to light.

“I’m not aware of any remaining UNRWA funding that hasn’t been used. In the meantime, we’re working with a number of other partner organisations, so Unicef, the Red Cross and others, to deliver our uplift of aid into Gaza.”

The spokesperson said the UK will not “be providing any additional funding while this work continues”.

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