UN Officials Promise Punishment for Staff Involved in Hamas Attack, Urge Countries to Resume Funding for Palestinians

UN Officials Promise Punishment for Staff Involved in Hamas Attack, Urge Countries to Resume Funding for Palestinians

UN officials urged countries to reconsider a pause in funding for the UN agency for Palestinians on Sunday, vowing that any staff found involved in Hamas' attack on Israel would be punished and warning that aid for some two million people in Gaza was at stake. At least nine countries, including top donors the U.S. and Germany, have paused funding for the UN refugee agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) following allegations by Israel that a dozen of its 13,000 staff in Gaza were involved in the Oct. 7 rampage.

"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," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday, promising to hold to account any U.N. employee involved in acts of terror. Since the Oct. 7 attacks, which killed 1,200 people in Israel, most of Gaza's 2.3 million people have become more reliant on the aid UNRWA provides, including about one million who have fled Israeli bombardments sheltering in its facilities.

Observers and aid workers said the move by donors would exacerbate hunger. "Donors, do not starve children for the sins of a few individual aid workers," said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council. A U.N. appointed expert on the right to food, Michael Fakhri, warned that the funding cuts meant that famine was now inevitable in Gaza. Despite the serious allegations against some UNRWA staff, Norway has decided to continue its funding, said Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide. However, there is no immediate sign that other countries will heed the UN's call to reinstate aid.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of leading an oppressive campaign against the agency. The campaign aims to liquidate the issue of Palestinian refugees, he said in a statement. Israel has not yet publicly given details of UNRWA staff members' alleged involvement in the attack on Israel. Guterres said 12 staff members had been implicated and that nine had been terminated, one was dead and the identities of the other two were being clarified. UNRWA was set up to help refugees of the war at Israel's founding in 1948 and provides education, health and aid services to them in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

Israel has long criticized the agency, alleging that it has supported Hamas for years, while UNRWA denies these allegations. Despite the ongoing dispute and the serious situation in Gaza, UNRWA is calling on countries to reconsider their decision to pause funding in order to ensure that aid can continue to reach those in need.

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