UK will continue UNRWA funding suspension despite Gaza famine

UK will continue UNRWA funding suspension despite Gaza famine
The UK government will continue to suspend aid to UNRWA until it can review interim reports into Israeli claims against the agency.
3 min read
14 March, 2024
UNRWA facilities are vital in Gaza, including serving as the primary hubs for the dispersal of humanitarian aid [Getty]

The UK government will continue to suspend funding to Palestinian relief works agency UNRWA, the Minister for Development and Africa Andrew Mitchell has said,  despite famine gripping Gaza and crippling food shortages.

The US, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Finland, Australia and the Netherlands will also continue their freeze to critical life saving aid to the UN aid agency for Palestinians until an interim report about Israel allegations that UNRWA aid workers were involved in Hamas's 7 October attacks is released, the minister said.

This decision by the UK and the other specified countries will delay the reinstatement of much-needed funds to the agency for at least a few weeks, The Guardian reported, which comes amid cases of starvation in northern Gaza.

The interim findings of the independent report into the organisation headed by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna are expected by the end of March, with the final report by the end of April.

It comes after Western countries suspended all aid to UNRWA after claims by Israel of Hamas links to the aid agency and that some workers took part in the 7 October attacks, despite the devastating humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The Israeli claims have been strongly disputed by the UN and other aid agencies, with some walk backs by Israel on its original claims about UNRWA.

Sweden, Canada and the EU have all decided to reinstate funding to the organisation based on the interim findings of an investigation into Israel’s claims by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).

The UK government has not said whether it has received and reviewed this report.

Israel claimed in late January that 12 UNRWA staff members were involved in Hamas’s surprise attack on the country on 7 October of last year, just hours after the UN’s top court that it was plausibly committing genocide in Gaza, prompting its major allies to cut funding to the organisation.

Since then, Israel has provided no credible evidence to back up its claims, prompting critics to believe that Israel’s claims against the primary relief agency for Palestinians are politically motivated.

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Most recently, UNRWA claimed that some of the evidence of its staff being involved in the 7 October attacks was based on false confessions extracted from staff who had been unlawfully detained and tortured by Israeli forces.

Relations between Israel and UNRWA have been fraught for years, with Israeli government officials openly admitting they want to end the UN agency’s activities in the Palestinian territories, including Gaza.

UNRWA provides a host of vital services for Palestinian refugees, including around 2 million people in Gaza.

Famine is looming in Gaza, with 27 people, most of them children, starving to death due to what rights groups say is Israel’s deliberate attempts to starve the Palestinian enclave.

UNRWA’s humanitarian activities in the territory are therefore seen as particularly vital, yet without major funders like the US, UK and Germany, combined with Israel’s blockades, there have been fears the agency could collapse.

Mitchell told MPs that he met with UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini and claimed that the organisation has enough funds to survive, according to The Guardian.

The UK’s next payment to UNRWA was scheduled for April.