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Donor countries urged to continue funding UNRWA

Several key donor countries have said they will halt funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees following Israel’s allegations that staff members took part in the 7 October Hamas attack.

The UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) has fired several people and promised a thorough investigation into the claims, which were not specified, while Israel has vowed to stop the agency’s work in Gaza after the war.

The head of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, vowed to hold “accountable, including through criminal prosecution”, any employee found to have been involved in “acts of terror”.

UN chief Antonio Guterres has promised an urgent independent review of UNRWA, but also pleaded for donor states to “guarantee the continuity” of the agency for the sake of “the desperate populations” it serves.

The United States said Friday it had suspended funding for the UN agency, a move followed by several other countries.

Australia, Britain, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Netherlands have also said they would suspend their contributions.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Chris Gunness, a former spokesperson for the UN Relief and Works Agency said the allegations were very serious, but added that aid should not be suspended until they “get to the bottom of exactly what happened”.

“What is the point is the question I would say to these Governments. What are you trying to achieve by suspending aid?

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees distributing flour to families in Rafah yesterday

“Do you not realise that this is adding to the collective punishment of the people of Gaza.” he said.

“UNRWA has implemented a zero-tolerance policy even before this information was checked in the investigation that is taking place independent up in New York.

“The zero-tolerance policy meant that UNRWA has opened itself up to the possibility of compensation claims because there was not a full investigation, and I would say to anybody listening this is 12 bad apples in a workforce of 13,000 people.”

Mr Gunness added that workers are bringing relief to “new mothers, children covered in burns, the wounded, the sick, the elderly, the dying”.

“Those are the people who are being punished by this disproportionate and punitive response by the donors. It is whole unconscionable – it is actually immoral.”

He said the decision to suspend funding will the “catastrophic” for the people of Gaza.

He said his colleagues are determined to “continue amid the bombs” carrying aid to some of the most “desperate” and “fragile” people in the Middle East.

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