UN Chief urges countries to keep funding Palestinian refugee agency after October 7 allegations

Antonio Guterres warned that the agency would soon be forced to scale back its operations

The secretary-general of the United Nations has 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.

It comes after the UK paused funding for the UN agency. Canada, the US and Australia have also temporarily halted funding for UNRWA while an investigation is carried out.

The dispute engulfing the biggest provider of vital aid to Palestinians came as US officials said negotiators were closing in on a cease-fire agreement. The emerging deal could bring a two-month halt to the deadliest-ever Israeli-Palestinian violence, which has stoked instability across the Middle East.

Antonio Guterres warned that the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, known as 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 penalised. The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met,” he added.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced due to the fighting. Credit: AP

He said that of the 12 employees accused of taking part in the attack, nine had been immediately terminated, one was confirmed dead and “the identity of the two others is being clarified.” He said all would be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.

UNRWA has 13,000 staffers in Gaza, nearly all of them Palestinians. It provides basic services, from medical care to education, for Palestinians families who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation — a majority of Gaza's population. It has expanded operations during the war, running shelters housing hundreds of thousands of newly displaced people.

More than 2 million of the territory’s 2.3 million people depend on it for “sheer survival,” including food and shelter, UNRWA director Philippe Lazzarini said, warning this lifeline can “collapse any time now.”

The Israel-Hamas war has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, destroyed vast swaths of Gaza and displaced nearly 85% of the territory’s people. The Hamas attack in southern Israel killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and about 250 hostages were taken to Gaza by militants.

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