Shocked and embarrassed by details that staffers of the UN Relief & Works Agency are linked to the Hamas attack on Israel last October, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is meeting key donor nations as 10 of them stopped funding the agency. These include the US and UK.
Guterres has also promised a swift and efficient investigation into the charges against staff of the agency some of whose services have been terminated. Guterres confirmed that nine have been removed, one is dead and the identity of two others is under discussion. However, reports presented by Israel suggest that at least 1200 of the 12,000 employees working for the agency have ties to Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Israel is demanding nothing less than the replacement of UNRWA with some other agency “dedicated to genuine peace and development”.
What is UNRWA?
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees was set up in 1948 immediately after the creation of Israel. The agency looks after the development and humanitarian needs of 5.9m registered Palestinians across Gaza, Jordan Lebanon, Syria, and West Bank.
UNRWA which is already underfunded, has the responsibility to aid 1.9 million Gazans who have been displaced due to this ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. Already the death toll has surpassed 25000 making it one of the worst outcomes of war in 2023-24.
What happens now?
The US has made clear its support for Israel and is unlikely to resume funding until the accused are brought to book. It may also want other changes including possibly the removal of UNRWA from Gaza. This would be highly controversial and complicate the problem of providing humanitarian aid in a war zone.
The situation in Gaza is deteriorating and the cut in funding has hit relief operations. Shortages of everything from medical supplies to food and water have been evident for some time. Israel is unrelenting, determined to see the elimination of Hamas from the Gaza enclave but that’s proving hard.