The UN’s aid agency in Gaza is said to be on the brink of collapse after nine nations, including the US and UK, suspended funding over allegations that several agency workers participated in the Hamas attack against Israel.
Philippe Lazzarini , head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA ), said he was “shocked” by the decisions taken by Western nations to pull aid funding as “famine looms” for the population of Gaza amid the continuing Israel-Hamas war.
“UNRWA lifesaving assistance is about to end following countries’ decisions to cut their funding to the agency. Our humanitarian operation, on which 2 million people depend as a lifeline in Gaza, is collapsing,” he wrote on X.
He added: “I am shocked such decisions are taken based on alleged behaviour of a few individuals and as the war continues, needs are deepening and famine looms. Palestinians in Gaza did not need this additional collective punishment. This stains all of us.”
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said: “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.”
Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said the Israeli accusations against UNRWA were a challenge to the International Court of Justice’s decision on Friday that ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza.
Palestinians expressed anger at the funding cuts. “We used to say Israel was launching a war of famine against us in parallel to its war of destruction, now those countries who suspended the aid toUNRWA declared themselves partners in this war, and collective punishment,” said Yamen Hamad, who lives at an UNRWA-run school in Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza Strip, after fleeing northern Gaza.
Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry said he was “surprised” by the move to pause UNRWA funding and said it would lead to more suffering for Palestinians. The Turkish Foreign Ministry also urged countries that had paused funding to reconsider their move. Norway and Ireland both said they would continue funding the agency.
Mr Lazzarini said several UN agency employees were fired and are being investigated over allegations that they participated in the 7 October attack.
“It would be immensely irresponsible to sanction an agency and an entire community it serves because of allegations of criminal acts against some individuals, especially at a time of war, displacement and political crises in the region,” he said in a statement.
About 12 agency employees are thought to be under investigation. UNRWA has 13,000 employees in Gaza, mostly Palestinians.
The USA has been joined by the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Finland in the decision to stop providing life-saving aid amid the continuing humanitarian disaster.
The Foreign Office said in a statement that the UK was “appalled” by allegations that UNRWA staff were involved in the 7 October attack, “a heinous act of terrorism” that the UK government has repeatedly condemned.
“The UK is temporarily pausing any future funding of UNRWA whilst we review these concerning allegations,” it said in a statement on Saturday. “We remain committed to getting humanitarian aid to the people in Gaza who desperately need it.”
The Scottish government denied media reports that it had either “paused or withdrawn” its own funding for the UN relief agency in Gaza. First minister Humza Yousaf wrote on X that the £750,000 Scotland has already paid to the UNRWA was “as much as we can within our financial constraints”.
“We will always seek to do more where we can and urge others to continue to provide aid to the people of Gaza,” he said.
Mr Lazzirini said that UNRWA is the primary humanitarian agency in Gaza, with over 2 million people depending on it for “their sheer survival”.
The UNRWA commissioner general also cited the International Court of Justice ruling asking Israel to take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance, adding that “these measures are aimed at preventing irreparable damage to the rights of Palestinians”.
More than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israel-Hamas war since the first week of October, according to the Gaza health ministry, which does not distinguish between civilian and militant casualties. Nearly 85 per cent of the territory’s 2.3 million people have been displaced.
At least 174 Palestinians were killed over the past day, the health ministry in Gaza said on Saturday.