Australia, Italy and others halt funding to U.N. agency over claim staff involved in Hamas attack on Israel

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Several key donor countries to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees joined the U.S. and said on Saturday they would halt their funding following accusations by Israel that several UNRWA staff were involved in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack.  

The U.S. State Department said on Friday they suspended payments to the organization. The U.S. underlined that “UNRWA plays a critical role in providing lifesaving assistance to Palestinians, including essential food, medicine, shelter, and other vital humanitarian support.” The UNRWA is the United Nations humanitarian agency that serves Palestinians.

The organization said it had opened an investigation into allegations from Israel that some of its staff members participated in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.  State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said 12 UNRWA employees had been accused of participating.   

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT
Palestinians walk at the entrance of a UNWRA school used as shelter in Gaza City. Key donors have paused funds to the U.N. agency after a claim staff participated in Hamas attacks on Israel. 

OMAR EL-QATTAA/AFP via Getty Images


Canada’s International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen also announced on Friday that Ottawa had “temporarily paused any additional funding to UNRWA while it undertakes a thorough investigation into these allegations.”

UNRWA responded by saying it had fired several staff over Israel’s accusations, promising a thorough investigation into the claims, which were not specified, while Israel vowed to stop the agency’s work in Gaza after the war. U.N’s top spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was briefed on the situation by UNWRA head Philippe Lazzarini and was “horrified by this news and has asked Mr. Lazzarini to investigate this matter swiftly.”

Here are what the countries that have suspended funding have said about the allegations:

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on Saturday that while UNRWA provides “vital, life saving work”, Brisbane would “temporarily pause disbursement of recent funding.”

“We welcome UNRWA’s immediate response, including terminating contracts and launching an investigation,” she said on the social media platform X.

Finland, which had a four-year agreement to provide five million euros ($5.4 million) annually to UNRWA, suspended its payments and called for an “an independent and thorough investigation”, in a statement from its foreign ministry.

“We must make sure that not a single euro of Finland’s money goes to Hamas or other terrorists,” it said.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said it was joining the ranks of those suspending funding, adding, “We are committed to providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinian population while protecting Israel’s security.”

Switzerland, which has made annual contributions of around 20 million Swiss francs ($23 million) to UNRWA, said Saturday no decision would be taken on the 2024 payment until the accusations were clarified.

“Switzerland has zero tolerance for all forms of support for terrorism, and for calls to hatred or incitement to violence,” it added.

Dutch Minister for Trade and Development Geoffrey van Leeuwen announced a freeze in funding for UNRWA while the investigation is ongoing, saying the government was “extremely shocked.”

“The accusation is that the attack was committed on Oct. 7 with UN money, with our money,” he told public broadcaster NOS on Saturday.

The British government said it was “appalled by the allegations” made by Israel and would be “temporarily pausing any future funding” while the Foreign Office reviewed the claims. The head of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, has vowed to hold “accountable, including through criminal prosecution”, any agency employee found to have been involved in “acts of terror.”

Canada’s International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen also announced on Friday that Ottawa had “temporarily paused any additional funding to UNRWA while it undertakes a thorough investigation into these allegations.”

Guterres pledged to conduct an “urgent and comprehensive independent review of UNRWA,” Dujarric said.

Haley Ott contributed to this report.

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