UNRWA chief says $267 mn in aid still suspended

AFP , Tuesday 30 Apr 2024

The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said on Tuesday that $267 million in its funding was still suspended over false allegations some UNRWA staff participated in the Hamas offensive on 7 October.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini speaks during a press conference on the situation in Gaza at the United Nations offices in Geneva, on April 30, 2024. AFP


The (now debunked) accusations made by Israel in January led to many donors freezing some $450 million in funding at a time when Gaza's 2.3 million people are in dire need of food, water, shelter and medicine.

Many countries have since resumed their donations, while others have not -- including the United States, which passed a law blocking funding until at least March 2025.

"It's money we were aware which was committed and which remains suspended for the agency. The total amount is $267 million. The bulk of it comes from the United States," UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini told a press conference in Geneva.

He said that up to 16 countries had suspended contributions to UNRWA following the allegations in January but as of Tuesday, "most of the donor countries have resumed their contribution to the agency."

"We just have a handful of countries that still need to make a decision," he said, citing Britain and Austria among them.

Switzerland is due to take a decision on whether to resume support on Wednesday.

Lazzarini said countries which had never donated to UNRWA before were now coming forward with contributions, including Algeria.

Over the last six months, more than $115 million had also been raised in private donations, "which is an indication of the extraordinary grassroots solidarity expressed towards Palestinians and also to the agency", he added.

He said the agency had the money to keep running until the end of June, but noted that during his tenure since 2020, the agency had rarely been able to look more than two to three months ahead financially.

UN investigation

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Friday announced that a UN probe into Israeli allegations against UNRWA -- that 19 members participated in an offensive into Israel on 7 October -- has closed one case due to the absence of any evidence from Israel and suspended four others.

UNRWA was swept into controversy in January when Israel, without providing evidence, accused 12 of its 30,000 employees of being involved in the events on 7 October.

The UN immediately fired the implicated staff members and launched an internal investigation to assess the agency's neutrality, led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna.

The audit published on April 22, largely cleared the agency.

In recent weeks, the UN received information on seven additional UNRWA staffers allegedly involved in the attack, leading to new investigations.

Regarding the seven fresh cases, one of them was also suspended pending additional evidence from Israel.

The other accused staffers remain under investigation, Dujarric said.

Rafah 'anxiety'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that the Israeli military will launch a ground offensive in Rafah "with or without" a truce with Hamas in Gaza.

Lazzarini said there was deep anxiety in the Gaza Strip over the fear of a ground invasion in the far-southern city, which is packed with hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians.

"People have not yet been asked to evacuate from Rafah," he added. "My colleagues on the ground are also describing a constant state of trauma among the people."

Israel's war on Gaza has killed at least 34,535 people, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry. Israel has also targeted and killed 182 UNRWA staff members since 7 October.


*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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