Last week, the United States made the decision to temporarily withhold approximately USD 3,00,000 in funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) as allegations surfaced regarding potential links between agency staff and the October 7 Hamas attacks.
The State Department spokesperson, Matt Miller, confirmed the funding pause, originally scheduled for delivery in the coming weeks, pending the outcome of ongoing investigations.
The temporary suspension follows reports suggesting UNRWA staff involvement in the Hamas attacks. The total impact of the funding pause may depend on the amount authorized by Congress for the fiscal year. In the current fiscal year, the United States has contributed around USD 121 million to UNRWA, emphasizing the need for a thorough investigation into the allegations.
Miller acknowledged the vital role UNRWA plays in providing humanitarian support, including education, healthcare, and food relief, to Gaza’s population. A meeting between the US and 34 other donor nations with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is scheduled to provide a briefing on actions taken since the revelation of the allegations against UNRWA staff. Guterres is expected to underscore the organization’s crucial humanitarian work during the meeting.
The allegations suggest that 13 UNRWA employees were associated with the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, with varying levels of involvement. The Israeli claims indicate that these employees participated in activities ranging from kidnapping hostages to setting up an operation room.
CNN has not seen the intelligence underlying the summary of allegations, but an Israeli official shared that of the 13 UNRWA employees, 10 were alleged Hamas operatives, two were Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives, and one remains unidentified. The Israeli intelligence claims that six UNRWA employees infiltrated Israel as part of the attack, with others involved in kidnapping and providing logistic support.
Concerns have been raised about the potential impact of flooding tunnels beneath populated areas, including damage to infrastructure and contamination of freshwater supplies.
The UN has not officially received the intelligence shared by Israel, and UNWRA has already terminated several employees in response to the allegations. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that nine staff members central to the allegations have been fired, one is deceased, and the identities of two others are being clarified.
Despite being criticized by Israel, UNRWA denies allegations of anti-Israel incitement and diverting aid to Hamas, condemning the October 7 Hamas attack as “abhorrent.” The fallout from the allegations has led several major donor countries, including the US, Germany, and the UK, to suspend funding to UNRWA. However, some countries like Norway, Ireland, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia have continued their support.
UN officials express concern that a suspension of payments from major donor countries could lead to UNRWA running out of funds, jeopardizing humanitarian relief for millions of people. This situation underscores the delicate balance between addressing alleged misconduct and ensuring the continuity of essential services provided by UNRWA.