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May 29, 2024

UNRWA Funding Suspended amid Claims of Staff Ties to Hamas Attack

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Jan 30, 2024

Over a Dozen Countries Pause Aid to Palestinian Refugee Agency

A growing number of countries have suspended funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) following claims by Israel that UNRWA employees were directly involved in a deadly Hamas attack last October.

Israel presented what it called “ironclad” evidence to the UN and key donor countries allegedly showing at least 12 UNRWA employees participated in the October 7th attack, which killed three civilians in southern Israel. The employees were said to have transported and housed the militants behind the attack. [1]

In response, major donors like the United States, Germany, Australia, Netherlands and Canada announced they are freezing over $140 million in aid until an investigation concludes. The EU called for an external audit of UNRWA while allowing funds to continue, for now. [2] [3]

Here is a summary of which countries have suspended UNRWA funding amid the allegations:

Country Amount Frozen
United States $130 million
Germany $113 million
Netherlands $33 million
Australia $6 million
Canada $6 million

List will be updated as more countries announce funding decisions. Funding figures via Al Jazeera analysis.

The sudden loss of funds has sparked fears of an imminent shutdown of UNRWA operations providing food, healthcare and education to over 5 million Palestinian refugees. [4] The agency is nearly entirely dependent on voluntary donations from UN member states.

Israel Presents Detailed Accusations of 12 Employees

Israel’s allegations focus on an October 7, 2022 combined arms attack by Palestinian militants that killed three civilians in southern Israel.

The Israeli government now claims up to 10% of UNRWA’s staff in Gaza, equating to dozens of employees, are actually active Hamas members. [5]

They presented detailed evidence on 12 specific employees who they say helped facilitate the October 7th attack by:

  • Transporting and housing four militants who crossed into Israel from Gaza to carry out the attack. The militants were disguised as humanitarian aid workers.
  • Distracting IDF troops and clearing the infiltration site beforehand to allow safe passage.
  • Celebrating the “successful operation” afterward.

Additionally, two employees were accused of participating directly in a deadly 1987 attack on a kibbutz in Israel that killed five civilians. [6]

Critically, an UNRWA logistics expert is said to have drawn up plans for the October 7th attack including routes and timings. He was also allegedly involved in Hamas tunnel construction efforts in years prior. [7]

UN Launches Investigation, Vows Disciplinary Action

Facing growing scrutiny, the United Nations pledged a “full and transparent investigation” into the Israeli claims which it said it is taking “very seriously.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres promised disciplinary action up to dismissal for any staffers found to have taken part or celebrated militant activities. [8]

However, the UN also pushed back on what it considers a “broad characterization” of alleged militant ties among UNRWA staff. A confidential 2021 UN report did find credible information on a couple Gaza employees with possible militant affiliations. But the report concluded there was no widespread pattern. [9] [10]

Critically, UNRWA leadership maintains the 12 employees accused of direct OCT 7 attack involvement were likely not even at work that day and have payroll records to confirm it. The UN promised to verify independently. [11]

Strained History Between Israel and UN Palestinian Aid Agency

Accusations of UNRWA employees assisting militant activities date back decades as part of a turbulent relationship between Israel and the agency.

Critics claim UNRWA’s operations allow Hamas to leverage civilian infrastructure and free up resources for militant activities. [12] The agency directly employs over 28,000 Palestinians in Gaza.

Israel has previously accused individual employees of militant ties, but evidence has been limited.

UNRWA rejects accusations it harbors militants and says it screens employees against UN-mandated “terror lists.” But those lists focus on globally-designated groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda – not Hamas which many Western countries designate solely as a political organization. [13]

Concerns of Humanitarian Crisis if UNRWA Shuts Down Operations

The sheer scale of vulnerable Palestinians dependent on UNRWA services raises dire concerns if operations collapse. Over 5 million Palestinian refugees currently receive food, healthcare, education and other lifeline aid from the agency across Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. [14]

Inside Gaza specifically, over 1.4 million refugees or nearly the entire population rely on UNRWA food and cash assistance. Healthcare, water, sanitization and other services are also heavily intertwined. [15]

With Gaza still recovering from recent wars plus an ongoing blockade, poverty and unemployment rates near 50%, UNRWA funding cuts could spur a cascading humanitarian emergency according to NGOs. [16]

But critics claim the agency has become bloated, ineffective and even obstructs peace by enabling militant activities. They argue direct country-to-country support would be more transparent and desire the decades-old UNRWA model to be dismantled entirely. [17]

Ongoing Negotiations Could Impact Next Steps

The allegations and funding suspension come at a precarious time as Egyptian-mediated indirect talks between Israel and Hamas progress toward a potential long-term ceasefire. A key negotiation point remains linking reconstruction aid for Gaza to Israeli MIA and prisoner releases. [18]

If a breakthrough prisoner swap or reconstruction plan emerges in coming weeks, countries who suspended UNRWA aid could face pressure to resume funding and assist recovery efforts as part of supporting the ceasefire agreement. [19]

On the other hand, if negotiations collapse and threats of renewed Gaza-Israel violence resurface, the window for restarting UNRWA aid could narrow even further. Israel may lobby for fully dissolving the agency altogether.

With the investigation ongoing, leadership changes possible and regional tensions still simmering – the future of the UN’s Palestinian refugee aid agency faces deep uncertainty in the weeks ahead. But the immediate humanitarian stakes for over 5 million vulnerable refugees remains as high as ever.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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