UN’s Palestine relief agency faces collapse after complaints staff joined terror attack

United Nations, Jan 30 – Major donors are sending one of the world organisation’s oldest and largest relief operations to the brink of collapse after disclosures that the employees of the organisation set up to help Palestinian refugees took part in the October 7 terrorist attack by Hamas on Israel.

“It’s not so much the existence of the agency is at stake. It’s the lives of the people that the agency serves that’s at stake,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Monday about the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

It will run out of funds past next month, he added.

UNRWA — and the UN itself — have been shaken by Israel’s allegations that 12 staffers of the organisation joined in the attacks on Israel.

A dossier shared with several news media organisations by Israel also asserted that at least 190 UNRWA staff were working for Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The UN immediately fired nine of those accused of participating in the attacks, one was dead and the identities of two were being ascertained, Guterres said on Sunday.

He added that he was “horrified” by “the abhorrent alleged acts of these staff members” and it “must have consequences”.

Dujarric said that the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services has been activated to investigate the allegations.

On the other side of the ledger, at least 152 of the 13,000 UNWRA relief workers in Gaza have been killed in the Israeli attack on Gaza in retaliation for the Hamas attack that killed about 190 people in Israel and had about 240 taken hostage.

After the US and at least a dozen other governments announced that they were freezing aid to UNRWA, Guterres said it will run out of funds next month to meet “the dire needs of the desperate population” of two million in Gaza.

He appealed to the donors not to suspend their aid but to continue helping UNRWA.

The US is the largest contributor sending nearly $344 million to UNRWA, which had a budget of $1.62 million last year.

Germany, which comes next with a $202 million contribution, also suspended payments.

UNRWA was founded by the UN General Assembly in 1949 in the aftermath of the war the previous year during which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced out of their homes in Israel.

It provides an array of services, from schooling and medical facilities to food and economic assistance, to Palestine refugees scattered across the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank occupied by Israel, as well as Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

Dujarric said that the organisation was irreplaceable in Gaza where 26,000 people, most of them women and children have been killed, 85 per cent of the population displaced, hospitals destroyed and mass starvation is threatened.

“No other organisation than UNRWA has the infrastructure to do the work that they do,” he added.

“It’s not as if anyone else can come in tomorrow and do the work that they do.”

According to Israel, nine of the 12 UNRWA workers who participated in the attack were teachers and one was a social worker.

It accused two of them of participating in the taking of hostages, two of participating in raids on kibuttzes and one of arming himself with an anti-tank missile.

US administration of former President Donald Trump had cut off aid to UNRWA in 2018 when Nikki Haley, a strong critic of the organisation and of Palestine, was the permanent representative to the UN.

Soon after his election, US President Joe Biden ordered the aid to resume and now he faces questions about the integrity of UNRWA.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged the work of UNRWA, saying on Monday that it “has played and continues to play an absolutely indispensable role in trying to make sure that men, women and children who so desperately need assistance in Gaza actually get it”.

Therefore, he said, “it is imperative that UNRWA immediately, as it said it would, investigate, that it hold people accountable as necessary and that it review its procedures”.

A Congressional hearing on UNRWA and its employees’ involvement in the 10/7 attack is scheduled.

India contributes $5 million directly to UNRWA every year and its representative in Palestine, Renu Yadav, handed over an instalment of $2.5 million in November.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at [email protected] and followed at @arulouis)


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