Israel has accused over 190 UNRWA staff members of being active members of Hamas and aiding the militant group in carrying out a deadly attack on Israeli civilians last October. The allegations have prompted over 10 countries, including key donors like the US, to pause or cut funding to the cash-strapped UN agency that provides vital aid to Palestinian refugees. UN and Palestinian leaders warn the funding cuts could spur a devastating humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Israel Details “Unequivocal” Evidence of UNRWA Employees’ Hamas Ties
On January 28th, Israel’s UN envoy Gilad Erdan sent an extensive intelligence dossier to UNSG Antonio Guterres detailing “unequivocal and undeniable evidence” that over 190 UNRWA employees were active Hamas members who aided the militant group in carrying out a deadly attack on Israeli civilians last October 7th.
The dossier alleges 12 UNRWA employees played an “active and significant role” in the Hamas attack by providing logistical support like gathering intelligence, transporting militants and weapons, and hosting planning meetings ahead of the assault which killed 4 Israeli civilians. Over 180 additional UNRWA staff are accused of being active Hamas members based on Israeli intelligence.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the evidence shows “UNRWA has been taken over by Hamas…and has become an accessory to a terrorist organization.” He urged the international community to stop funding the agency until all implicated staff have been fired. PM Bennet called the findings “grave and shocking” and warned of additional evidence not yet public.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “appalled” by the allegations and would “act swiftly” in launching an investigation, vowing to take “appropriate action” if any staff are found guilty of misconduct.
At Least 10 Countries Pause or Cut UNRWA Funding Over Allegations
In the wake of Israel’s dossier, at least 10 countries have announced they will be suspending or reevaluating financial contributions to UNRWA pending investigations over the Hamas allegations.
The countries pausing UNRWA funding include:
- United States (largest single donor, providing over $340 million in 2022)
- European Union
Combined, the aid cuts amount to over $1 billion in suddenly frozen annual donations, representing nearly 50% of UNRWA’s total budget. The bulk of funding comes from the EU and Gulf states who have yet to indicate if they will also suspend payments.
Israel and congressional Republicans had already been urging donor countries to rethink UNRWA funding even before the latest allegations, accusing the agency of perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pro-Israel groups praised the countries’ decisions while Palestinian and humanitarian organizations warned of an impending humanitarian emergency.
UN Chief and Palestinians Warn Aid Cuts Could Prompt “Catastrophic” Crisis
UN officials and Palestinian leaders reacted with alarm over the wave of countries suspending financial contributions to UNRWA’s operations in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. They warn the funding cuts could spur a devastating humanitarian crisis and economic collapse across Palestinian territories.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres implored member states to resume UNRWA funding while investigations proceed, saying existing safeguards prevent aid from reaching militant groups. He reaffirmed his “full confidence” in UNRWA’s work providing healthcare, education, and other lifesaving services to over 5 million Palestinian refugees.
“I express deep concern regarding the significant funding gaps now faced by #UNRWA and their potential impact on the continuity of operations in fields including education, healthcare, relief and social services,” Guterres tweeted.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said losing core budget funding puts all the agency’s services “at stake.” He warned of soaring unemployment, school dropouts, child malnutrition, water shortages, and homelessness across Gaza, the West Bank and Palestinian refugee camps if funding cuts persist.
“The humanitarian crisis is not looming anymore, it’s here. It’s now,” Lazzarini told reporters. “What is at stake here is whether the international community wants to see flareups, increased radicalization…People cannot be abandoned.”
Palestinian leaders accused Israel of waging “financial war” to intentionally bankrupt UNRWA and deprive millions of Palestinians their basic needs. They say permanently defunding the agency would end the possibility of a two-state solution.
Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum denied all allegations of UNRWA collusion, calling them “false fabrications” aimed to “provide a cover for the crimes of the occupation against our people, our UNRWA, and donors’ contributions.”
Aid Cuts Spark Fears of Imminent Famine and Unrest in Gaza
The frozen funds are already threatening food distributions, cash assistance programs and other lifesaving UNRWA services relied upon by over 2 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza. Aid workers warn Gazans could face imminent, widespread famine and a total economic meltdown if funding is not urgently restored.
“Hundreds of thousands of Palestine refugees in Gaza rely on regular food from @WFP via @UNRWA distribution centers. With this system now under threat, the risk of hunger rises,” tweeted UN Coordinator Lynn Hastings.
Gaza’s economy and infrastructure have been devastated by 15 years of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, recent wars with Israel, Palestinian political divides, soaring poverty and unemployment rates near 50%. UN officials say the growing desperation leaves Gaza’s “powder keg” environment vulnerable to renewed conflict.
“The situation was already near breaking point, after years of chronic underfunding and instability,” said UNICEF spokesperson James Elder. “If UNRWA funding dries up, it risks catastrophic ripple effects for all.”
With vital UNRWA services now jeopardized across the region, neighboring countries also fear unrest could spread among Palestinian refugee populations in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria who rely heavily on the agency’s aid.
What Comes Next: Investigations, Aid Cuts, and Search for Alternatives
In coming weeks, the US, EU and other donors are expected to formalize suspensions of 2024 UNRWA contributions pending conclusion of independent investigations into the October attack allegations. Israel meanwhile may release additional evidence or restrictions against UNRWA.
If investigations substantiate accusations of routine UNRWA staff misconduct or militant group ties, calls for permanently defunding the agency and shifting aid delivery alternatives will likely grow. But UN leaders and humanitarian groups counter there are no viable immediate alternatives to sustain the vast scale of services UNRWA provides Palestinians.
In Gaza, aid groups are urgently trying to shore up emergency funds and supplies to prevent imminent health and food crises. But they say only government donors can provide resources adequate to avert widespread suffering and increased tensions as UNRWA cash and stockpiles rapidly dwindle.
With so much uncertainty ahead, UN and Palestinian officials are pleading for donor countries to urgently reinstate enough “bridging” funds to keep UNRWA facilities operating at minimal levels while awaiting investigation outcomes. But with political pressure mounting, major donors appear unlikely to back down quickly from their newly hardened stance on aid to UNRWA and Palestinian territories.
Timeline of Key Events
|Oct 7, 2022
|Hamas carries out deadly attack in Israel killing 4 civilians
|Jan 28, 2023
|Israel sends dossier to UN detailing evidence of 190+ UNRWA staff links to Hamas attack and wider membership
|At least 10 key donor countries pause or cut funding to UNRWA pending investigations into allegations
|Donors expected to formalize holds on 2023 funding amid investigations by UN, donors, Israel
|UNRWA begins widespread service reductions and aid rationing as cash shortages hit
|Investigations complete; countries decide whether to resume, shift, or permanently end UNRWA funding
This is a developing story. Check for updates in coming days and weeks.
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