UN Calls for Reversal of Funding Freeze for Palestinian Agency

UN officials and aid groups called for countries to reconsider their decision to pause funding for the UN refugee agency for Palestinians on Sunday, warning that its life-saving aid for some two million people in Gaza was in jeopardy. At least nine countries, including top donors the United States and Germany, have paused funding for the UN refugee agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) following allegations by Israel that some of its staff were involved in the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel that killed 1,200 people. “While I understand their concerns – I was myself horrified by these accusations – I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday, vowing to hold to account “any UN employee involved in acts of terror.” Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA commissioner-general, also urged countries to “reconsider their decisions before UNRWA is forced to suspend its humanitarian response.” More than 26,000 people have been killed in Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in Gaza, the enclave’s Hamas-run health ministry said. With flows of aid like food and medicine into the territory just a trickle of pre-conflict levels, deaths from preventable diseases as well as the risk of famine are growing, aid officials say. Since the Oct. 7 conflict began, most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have become reliant on the aid UNRWA provides, including about one million who have fled Israeli bombardments sheltering in its facilities. Palestinians expressed anger at the funding cuts. “We used to say Israel was launching a war of famine against us in parallel to its war of destruction, now those countries who suspended the aid to UNRWA declared themselves partners in this war, and collective punishment,” said Yamen Hamad, who lives at an UNRWA-run school in Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza Strip, after fleeing northern Gaza. A UN-appointed expert on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, warned on social media platform X that the funding cuts meant that famine was now “inevitable” in Gaza. Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Saturday called for the agency to be replaced and urged more countries to cut funding. Israel has not yet publicly given details of UNRWA staff members’ alleged involvement in the attack on Israel. Deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq declined to respond directly to Katz’s remarks but said UNRWA overall had a strong record. Guterres said 12 staff members had been implicated and that nine had been terminated, one was dead, and the identities of the other two were being clarified. There was no immediate sign of countries’ heeding the UN call to reinstate aid. However, Norway and Ireland said they would continue funding the agency. UNRWA was set up to help refugees of the 1948 war at Israel’s founding and provides education, health, and aid services to Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.