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UN chief calls for donor countries to restore funding for Gaza relief agency

Palestinians arrive in the southern Gaza town of Rafah after fleeing an Israeli ground and air offensive in the nearby city of Khan Younis on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024.
Palestinians arrive in the southern Gaza town of Rafah after fleeing an Israeli ground and air offensive in the nearby city of Khan Younis on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. Copyright AP
Copyright AP
By Euronews with Associated Press
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The UN agency has more than 13,000 staff working in Gaza, and at least 150 have been killed during the Israeli offensive.

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The secretary-general of the United Nations on Sunday called on countries to continue funding the main agency providing aid in Gaza after several of its employees were accused of taking part in the Hamas attack on Israel that ignited the war four months ago.

Antonio Guterres warned that the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, would be forced to scale back aid to more than 2 million Palestinians as soon as February. The coastal enclave is in the grip of a severe humanitarian crisis, with a quarter of the population facing starvation.

“The abhorrent alleged acts of these staff members must have consequences,” Guterres said in a statement.

“But the tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA, many in some of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be penalized. The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met,” he added.

European countries suspend UNRWA funding contributions

Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Finland, Britain and the Netherlands are the latest countries to suspend their aid contributions to UNRWA amid the ongoing scandal. 

The US, Australia and Canada also suspended their funding. 

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said it terminated contracts with “several” employees and ordered an investigation after Israel provided information alleging they played a role in the attack. 

UNRWA has 13,000 staffers in Gaza, almost all of them Palestinians, ranging from teachers in schools that the agency runs to doctors, medical staff and aid workers.

In a statement, Lazzarini called the allegations “shocking” and said any employee “involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.”

He did not elaborate on what the staffers’ alleged role was in the attacks. In the unprecedented surprise attack, Hamas fighters broke through the security fence surrounding Gaza and stormed nearby Israeli communities, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping some 250. Other militants joined the rampage.

“UNRWA reiterates its condemnation in the strongest possible terms of the abhorrent attacks of 7 October” and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all Israeli hostages, Lazzarini said.

There has been some criticism of the move by international donors to suspend funding, including from former New Zealand PM, and former head of the UN Development Programme, Helen Clark. 

Writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, Clark said that halting funds to UNRWA amounts to "collective punishment" of Gaza's "besieged population." 

Since the start of the war, Israel’s assault has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, most women and children, and wounded more than 64,400 others, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry. 

The ministry does not differentiate between combatants and civilians in its death toll. 

More than 150 UNRWA employees are among those killed - the highest toll the world body has suffered in a conflict - and a number of UN shelters have been hit by the Israeli bombardment.

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