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Explainer: Why many countries have halted funding to UNRWA in Gaza – Times of India

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Several key donor countries have recently announced a halt to their funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), following allegations that some of its staff were involved in the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.
Established in the aftermath of the 1948 conflict coinciding with Israel’s establishment, UNRWA was created to support the refugees from that period. The agency extends a range of services including education, healthcare, and general humanitarian aid to Palestinian populations in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. In Gaza alone, where the population is approximately 2.3 million, UNRWA assists nearly two-thirds of the residents. The agency has been particularly instrumental in providing crucial aid amidst the conflict initiated by Israel to counteract Hamas following the attacks on October 7.
Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Finland on Saturday joined the United States, Australia and Canada in pausing funding to the aid agency, a critical source of support for people in Gaza, after the allegations by Israel.
Israel accused several UNRWA staff members of being involved in Hamas’s October 7 attack, leading to a significant international response.
Immediate reactions and measures
In response to the allegations, UNRWA took swift action by terminating the contracts of several staff members and initiating a thorough investigation into the claims, which have not been detailed publicly.
Israel, expressing its stance strongly, has declared its intention to cease the operations of the agency in Gaza post-war.
International response and statements
Countries that have suspended their funding to UNRWA have voiced their concerns and actions publicly:
Australia: Australian foreign minister Penny Wong acknowledged UNRWA’s crucial role but announced a temporary pause in the disbursement of recent funding, emphasizing the need for a swift and decisive response to the allegations.
Canada: Canada, through its International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen, has also paused additional funding pending a thorough investigation into the allegations.
Finland: With a significant annual contribution to UNRWA, Finland has called for an independent and exhaustive investigation, stressing the importance of ensuring that their funds do not support Hamas or other terrorist organizations.
Germany, Italy, and Switzerland: These countries have echoed similar sentiments, emphasizing the need for clarity and resolution of the accusations before any further funding is approved. They have highlighted their zero-tolerance policies towards any form of support for terrorism.
The Netherlands and the United Kingdom: Both nations expressed shock at the allegations and have paused future funding, pending a review of the claims.
UNRWA’s role and the impact of funding suspension
UNRWA plays a crucial role in providing aid to Palestinian refugees, offering services such as education, health, and emergency assistance. The agency supports approximately two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million population. The suspension of funds by major donor countries threatens the agency’s ability to deliver these vital services, especially in the context of the recent war that has exacerbated the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Statements from UNRWA
Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, has committed to holding any agency employee involved in “acts of terror” accountable, including through criminal prosecution. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also pledged an “urgent and comprehensive independent review” of UNRWA.
War in Gaza
The conflict in Gaza ignited following a series of intense attacks by Hamas on October 7, leading to approximately 1,140 fatalities in Israel, predominantly among civilians, as reported by AFP based on official data from Israel.
During these confrontations, militants took roughly 250 individuals hostage, and as per Israeli reports, about 132 hostages, including the remains of at least 28 deceased individuals, are still held in Gaza.
In response, Israel has pledged a decisive action against Hamas. The health ministry in Gaza reports that the Israeli offensive has resulted in a minimum of 26,257 casualties, with women and children constituting about 70 percent of the victims.
Prior to the escalation of hostilities, UNRWA was already grappling with financial challenges to sustain its operations.
(With inputs from agencies)





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