UN chief asks donor countries for 'continuity' in UNRWA operations

AFP , Sunday 28 Jan 2024

UN chief Antonio Guterres has pleaded for donor states to "guarantee the continuity" of the body's Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) after several halted funding over accusations of staff involvement in Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel.

Displaced Palestinians queue to receive aid at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) centre in Rafah on January 28, 2024. Photo: AFP

"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," Guterres said in a statement on Saturday.

Israel has alleged several UNRWA staff were involved in Hamas's attack, leading a number of key donor countries to suspend their funding.

The agency has fired several staff over Israel's accusations, promising a thorough investigation into the claims, which were not specified.

Israel has meanwhile vowed to stop the agency's work in Gaza after the war.

The row between Israel and UNRWA follows the UN's International Court of Justice ruling on Friday that Israel must prevent possible acts of genocide in the conflict and allow more aid into Gaza.

"The abhorrent alleged acts of these staff members must have consequences," Guterres said.

"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," he added.

"The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met."

Guterres confirmed that 12 UNRWA employees were cited in the accusations, which the United Nations is investigating.

Nine have been fired, one is dead, and "the identity of the two others is being clarified", he said.

Several key donor countries to UNRWA have said they will temporarily suspend their current or future funding following the allegations, including the United States, Britain, Canada and Switzerland.

Israel's envoy to the UN on Sunday slammed Guterres, saying the UN chief had repeatedly ignored "evidence" presented to him regarding UNRWA's involvement in "incitement and terrorism".

"Any country that continues to fund UNRWA before a comprehensive investigation of the organization should know that its money will be used for terrorism and the aid that will be transferred to UNRWA may reach the Hamas terrorists instead of the population in Gaza," Gilad Erdan said in a statement issued by Israel's foreign ministry.

Hamas decried Israeli "threats" against UNRWA on Saturday, urging the UN and other international organizations not to "cave in to the threats and blackmail".

Since the beginning og the war on 7 October Israel's military offensive has killed at least 26,257 Palestinians, most of them women and children, according to Gaza's health ministry.

* This story was edited by Ahram Online

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