UN chief calls on countries to resume funding Gaza aid agency after allegations of militant ties

Middle East AP - Ramez Habboub
AP - Ramez Habboub

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

United Nations Secretary-General Guterres on Sunday pleaded for donor states to "guarantee the continuity" of the body's Palestinian refugee agency, known as UNRWA, after many suspended their aid.

"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.

Guterres warned that the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, would be forced to scale back aid to more than 2 million Palestinians as soon as February.

The coastal enclave is in the grip of a severe humanitarian crisis, with a quarter of the population facing starvation.

“The abhorrent alleged acts of these staff members must have consequences,” Guterres said in a statement.

“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 penalised. The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met,” he added.


The United States, which is the largest donor to the agency, immediately suspended funding over the weekend, following accusations by Israel that a dozen of its employees were involved in Hamas' 7 October attack. 

The US were followed by several other countries, including Australia, Britain, Germany and Italy.

Guterres vowed on Sunday to hold to account "any U.N. employee involved in acts of terror" after allegations that some refugee agency staffers were involved in the 7 October Hamas attacks on Israel.

"Any U.N. employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution," the UN chief said in a statement.

"The Secretariat is ready to cooperate with a competent authority able to prosecute the individuals in line with the Secretariat's normal procedures for such cooperation."

The UN chief gave details about the UNRWA staffers implicated in the "abhorrent alleged acts".

Of the 12 implicated, he said, nine had been terminated, one was confirmed dead and the identities of the other two were being clarified.

The UNRWA said on Friday that it had fired the employees in question.

The dispute over UNRWA came as the International Court of Justice ruled Friday that Israel must do its utmost to limit death and destruction in its Gaza offensive.

Matter of 'survival'

More than 2 million of the territory's 2.3 million people depend on it for “sheer survival,” including food and shelter, UNRWA director Philippe Lazzarini said, warning this lifeline can “collapse any time now.”

UNRWA has 13,000 staffers in Gaza, nearly all of them Palestinians.

It provides basic services, from medical care to education, for Palestinians families who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation — a majority of Gaza's population.

It has expanded operations during the war, running shelters housing hundreds of thousands of newly displaced people.

The health ministry in Gaza says at least 26,422 people have been killed, mostly women and children, and 65,087 have been injured in Israeli strikes on the enclave since 7 October 2023.

Israeli officials say about 1,140 people were killed in the Hamas-led October 7 attacks in southern Israel. 

Militant fighters took some 250 hostages during the attack, 132 being still in Gaza, according to Israeli figures. 

 (with newswires)