Global funding for the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) is facing a significant blow as the US, UK, and several other countries suspend financial support after allegations of staff involvement in Hamas attacks.
Palestinian officials have condemned the funding freeze, triggered by Israeli claims that some UNRWA employees participated in the recent attacks on southern Israel. The controversy has prompted UNRWA to sever ties with implicated staff and launch an immediate investigation.
In response to the Israeli allegations, UNRWA's Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini terminated the contracts of accused employees, vowing accountability for those involved in "acts of terror". The US, UK, Australia, Canada, Italy, Finland, and the Netherlands have joined in the funding pause, citing concerns over the alleged staff involvement in the October 7 attacks.
The freeze leaves UNRWA without a huge amount of funds as it tries desperately to provide human aid for 1.9 forcibly displaced Palestinians across Gaza.
Norway and Ireland have broken ranks, emphasising their support for UNRWA's investigation, and highlighting the agency's critical humanitarian role in Gaza. Meanwhile, Hamas has accused Israel of a "campaign of incitement" against UN agencies delivering vital supplies to Palestinians.
Senior Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh has begged countries to reverse funding cessation, emphasising the importance of international support amid ongoing aggression against the Palestinian people. The development has also been denounced by Hamas, which, among other voices, has urged the UN and international organisations not to yield to Israeli threats.
As UNRWA, established in 1949 to aid Palestinians post-Nakba, faces a funding crisis, the geopolitical fallout unfolds. The Israeli government, long critical of UNRWA, seeks to halt the agency's operations in Gaza, asserting it perpetuates the refugee issue and serves as a civilian arm of Hamas. The situation raises questions about the agency's ability to navigate its role in a war zone under Israeli occupation and prompts concerns about the humanitarian consequences for the 1.7 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza.