More countries have halted funding to the largest UN agency operating in Gaza, as the crisis deepens over the alleged role of some staff in the 7 October Hamas attacks on Israel.
Austria on Monday announced it was suspending all further funding for the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees, the latest to do so amid allegations that 12 of its employees were involved in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
Japan and Austria said they were suspending payments to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
Japan has decided to suspend funding for a U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees, joining the United States and others, amid allegations that its staff may have been involved in Hamas’ attack on Israel last year.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maki Kobayashi said in a press release Sunday that additional aid to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, known as UNRWA, will be halted “for the time being” while it investigates the matter and considers countermeasures.
Japan is “extremely concerned” about the alleged involvement of UNRWA personnel in the “terror attack,” and urged the agency to investigate the case and take appropriate measures so that it can “firmly fulfill the role it should play,” Kobayashi said.
Vienna’s foreign ministry announced the move in a statement that said further payments to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East would be suspended until certain conditions were met, including the completion of an investigation into the allegations by the organization and the United Nations.
“The allegations that UNRWA staff were involved in Hamas’ brutal terrorist attack on Oct. 7 are deeply shocking and extremely disturbing,” the ministry said.
“We call on UNRWA and the United Nations to conduct a comprehensive, rapid and complete investigation into the allegations. The United Nations must also be above criticism in the interest of its own credibility.”
The announcement comes after UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini on Friday said he has received information from Israel concerning the possible involvement of several of its employees in the attack that killed some 1,200 Israelis, involved the kidnapping of some 240 others and kickstarted the nearly 4-month old war between Israel and Iran-backed Hamas.
Lazzarini said he terminated the contracts of implicated staff members and launched an investigation in hopes of protecting the agency’s ability to deliver humanitarian assistance amid the crisis unfolding in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.
He vowed that any employees involved “will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.”
Founded in 1949 to provide human assistance to Palestinian refugees, UNRWA has been the primary relief agency for more than 2 million people in Gaza. Amid the war, it has been sheltering more than half of Gaza’s population, where an estimated 85%, or 1.9 million people, have been displaced.
Since the allegations were raised, some 10 countries have paused funding for the aid agency.
The wave of suspensions of funding started with the US on Friday, right after the investigation was announced.
Canada, Australia, Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, Estonia, Japan, Austria and Romania joined Washington as of Monday.
Meanwhile, the French foreign ministry announced that France has not planned a new payment to fund UNRWA in the first quarter of 2024, but would decide when the time comes what action to take in conjunction with the United Nations and its main donors.
The European Union (EU) announced on Monday that it would review whether it could continue to fund UNRWA in light of the allegations.
The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission announced that the body does not foresee any additional funding for the organisation until the end of February.
Ireland and Norway, however, expressed continued support for UNRWA, saying the agency does crucial work to help Palestinians displaced and in desperate need of assistance in Gaza.
“We need to distinguish between what individuals may have done, and what UNRWA stands for,” a statement by Norway’s government said, adding the organisation’s tens of thousands of employees in Gaza, the West Bank, and the region play a “crucial role” in distributing aid, saving lives, and safeguarding basic needs and rights.
Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin wrote on X: “Ireland has no plans to suspend funding for UNRWA’s vital Gaza work.”
Spanish daily, El País, reported on Monday that Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares said Spain would continue funding UNRWA. He asserted that while Spain is closely following the investigation into Israel’s claims, the accused are 12 individuals out of a total of around 30,000 UNRWA employees.
Following the announcement of countries freezing funding, Lazzarini said it was “shocking … especially given the immediate action that UNRWA took by terminating their contracts and asking for a transparent independent investigation.”
“I urge countries who have suspended their funding to reconsider their decisions before UNRWA is forced to suspend its humanitarian response,” he said in a statement Saturday. “The lives of people in Gaza depend on this support and so does regional stability.”
U.N. head Antonio Guterres similarly appealed Sunday to countries that have suspended funding to reconsider, vowing any employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable.
“The abhorrent alleged acts of these staff members must have consequences. 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 penalized,” he said in a statement. “The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met.”
Of the 12 UNRWA employees alleged to have been involved in the attack, nine were immediately identified and had their contracts terminated, one is confirmed dead and the identities of two others are being clarified, he said.