(CTN News) – More nations have withdrawn funding for the major UN agency operating in Gaza as the crisis over the alleged complicity of certain workers in the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7 worsens.
Japan and Austria announced they were suspending funds to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
The United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy have also ceased support.
UNRWA has told the BBC that it is “extremely desperate” and that “the humanitarian needs in Gaza are growing by the hour”.
The agency has fired numerous employees over allegations that they were complicit on October 7, when Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel, killing over 1,300 people, mostly civilians, and transporting approximately 250 others back to Gaza as hostages.
More than 26,000 Palestinians, largely women and children, have been murdered in Gaza since Israel began a massive military assault in response, according to the territory’s Hamas-controlled health ministry. Another 1.7 million people have fled their homes, with many seeking refuge in UNRWA sites.
According to the New York Times, an Israeli intelligence dossier asserts that over 200 UNRWA employees are Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives but does not provide specific evidence.
The document also claims that at least 12 workers crossed into Israel on October 7. UNRWA has fired nine of the staffers and claims it is investigating.
Another article released by the Wall Street Journal, citing the Israeli intelligence dossier, claims that approximately 1,200 of UNRWA’s 12,000 employees in Gaza have ties to Hamas or the Islamic Jihad.
On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to confirm the dossier’s contents, describing the agency as “perforated with Hamas”.
“We discovered that there were 13 UNRWA workers who actually participated, either directly or indirectly, in the 7 October massacre,” he stated in an interview with UK television channel TalkTV.
“In UNRWA schools, they’ve been teaching the doctrines of extermination for Israel – the doctrines of terrorism, glorifying terrorism, lauding terrorism.”
The UN declined to comment, stating that an internal probe into the agency is underway.
However, earlier on Sunday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “horrified” by the allegations regarding the 7 October attack. Despite this, he has urged donor countries to “ensure the continuity of UNRWA’s operations”.
In a statement released on Sunday, he said: “Of the 12 people implicated, nine were immediately identified and terminated by the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini; one is confirmed dead and the identity of the two others is being clarified.”
He said Gaza should not be punished for the charges.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that the reports regarding UNRWA workers were “deeply troubling” and that it was “imperative” for the institution to investigate, hold people accountable, and review its procedures.
However, he stated that UNRWA had an “absolutely indispensable role in trying to make sure that men, women, and children who so desperately need assistance in Gaza actually get it” and that the organization’s function must continue.
Earlier Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz announced that he had cancelled meetings with Mr Lazzarini and called for his resignation.
A UNRWA spokeswoman stated that the agency cannot continue operations beyond the end of February if financing is not restored.
Japan’s foreign ministry stated late on Sunday that it was “extremely concerned about the alleged involvement of UNRWA staff members in the terror attack on Israel” in announcing its decision to withhold financing.
It noted that it had been “strongly urging” UNRWA to investigate the claims “in a timely and comprehensive manner.”
Funding Suspension Threatens Humanitarian Operations in Gaza
According to UNRWA estimates for 2022, Japan is the agency’s sixth-largest donor.
Austria followed suit on Monday, calling for “a comprehensive, swift, and complete investigation into the allegations”.
In a BBC interview, Juliette Touma, UNRWA’s director of communications, stated that the charges were “extremely serious” and that Mr Lazzarini had taken an “extraordinary measure” by promptly removing the staff members.
“We are desperate. “It comes at a time when the humanitarian needs in Gaza are increasing by the hour,” she added, adding that she had visited the region herself last week.
People continue to be displaced. People are hungry. The clock is rapidly ticking towards hunger.
“We are doing everything possible to prevent starvation. But the shortage of financing we are now facing when at least ten of the top donors have temporarily halted the funding will have extremely serious consequences for the greatest humanitarian effort in Gaza.
She stated that UNRWA had not seen the proof, but the claims were being probed by the UN’s supervision office in New York.