Community leaders welcome UK decision to freeze funding to UNRWA

UK and other countries have paused funding for the UN’s Palestinian refugee aid agency after Israel provided evidence that staff had been involved in the October 7 attacks


Gazans in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip (Photo: Getty)

The UK, US, Australia and a number of other countries have paused funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) over accusations that a number of its employees took part in October 7 massacre by Hamas.

A spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office said: “The UK is appalled by allegations that UNRWA staff were involved in the 7 October attack against Israel, a heinous act of terrorism that the UK Government has repeatedly condemned.

“The UK is temporarily pausing any future funding of UNRWA whilst we review these concerning allegations.

‘We remain committed to getting humanitarian aid to the people in Gaza who desperately need it.’

The Board of Deputies praised the decision, saying: “We commend the government's decision, alongside the US, Canada, Australia, and other countries, to halt funding for UNRWA, given the revelations about the involvement of members of its staff in the October 7th attacks.

“There have been significant worries for decades regarding the activity of UNRWA employees; their incitement of antisemitism and their promotion of terror — and for decades UNRWA’s leadership has dismissed such fears. It is clear that far stronger oversight of this agency is desperately needed.”

 The UN has launched an investigation into the 12 members of staff  accused by Israel of taking part in the attack in which more than 1000 people were killed and more than 200 were taken hostage.

UNWRA chief Philippe Lazzarini called the cuts “irresponsible”, saying they put two million Gazans at risk.

“It is shocking to see a suspension of funds to the Agency in reaction to allegations against a small group of staff, especially given the immediate action that UNRWA took by terminating their contracts and asking for a transparent independent investigation,” Lazzarini said.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday that out of the 12 UNRWA employees implicated, nine had had their employment terminated, one was dead and the identities of the other two were being clarified.

In the wake of the accusations and dismissals, the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, Italy, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Scotland suspended their funding to the UN agency.

However, Guterres implored the countries that have suspended their contributions “to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations,” drawing a rebuke from Israel’s UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan.

Erdan said: “The UN Secretary-General has proven once again that the security of the citizens of Israel is not really important for him. After years in which he ignored the evidence presented to him personally about UNRWA’s support and involvement in incitement and terrorism, and before he conducted a comprehensive investigation to locate all Hamas terrorists in UNRWA, he called to fund an organisation that is deeply contaminated with terrorism.”

He added: “Every country that continues to fund UNRWA before a comprehensive investigation of the organisation should know that its money might be used for terrorism, and the aid that will be transferred to UNRWA may reach the Hamas terrorists instead of the people of Gaza. I call on all donor states to suspend their support and demand an in-depth investigation that will investigate the involvement of all UNRWA employees in terror."

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called on the United Nations to dismiss UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini and vowed to prevent the agency from having any role in post-war Gaza.

Writing on X/Twitter, on Saturday, Katz said: “In Gaza’s rebuilding, @UNRWA must be replaced with agencies dedicated to genuine peace and development.”

Marcus Sheff, CEO of the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE), said: “Sadly, this is not a bug. It is a feature of UNRWA. How many other UNRWA-affiliated terrorists do we think raped, maimed and murdered Israelis on Oct. 7?”

IMPACT-SE is an Israeli non-profit organisation that monitors the content in school textbooks, including texts used in UNRWA-run schools in Palestinian refugee camps.

Sheff said: “UNRWA runs the majority of schools in Gaza, where it teaches jihad, martyrdom and the burning of Israelis as a barbecue party. Statistically, the majority of the Oct. 7 terrorists — over 1,500 — will have gone to these UNRWA schools, where they were systematically radicalised over years.”

The UNWRA was set up in 1949 to support Arab and Jewish refugees after the 1948 war of independence. In 1952 Israel assumed responsibility for Jews and Arabs within its borders. But decades later, Palestinians are the only refugee population with its own dedicated UN agency. The rest of the world’s refugees fall under the mandate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Israeli officials have long called  for Palestinian refugees to be brought under the aegis of the UNHCR.

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