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Aid Group Calls Halts in Funding for UNRWA ‘Reckless’

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Aid Group Calls Halts in Funding for UNRWA ‘Reckless’

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Aid groups working in Gaza expressed dismay at the decision by some donor nations to suspend funding to the main U.N. agency operating in the territory, calling the move “reckless” at a moment when the humanitarian crisis there is rapidly getting worse.

The United States and at least eight other countries said in recent days that they were halting funding for the agency, known by the acronym UNRWA, after Israel presented allegations that a dozen of its employees had played a role in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack or its aftermath. The attacks left at least 1,200 people dead and about 240 taken hostage, according to Israeli estimates.

Donations from three of the countries that paused funding — the United States, Germany and Japan — made up nearly half of all contributions to the agency in 2022, according to UNRWA.

António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, is expected to meet with major donor nations on Tuesday in New York to urge them to keep the agency afloat, according to his spokesman. UNRWA’s leaders have warned that it does not have a financial reserve and could run out of money to pay its staff within weeks if donors withhold funding.

The European Union, the third-largest donor to UNRWA after the United States and Germany, said on Monday that it was not suspending funding, but that it would make decisions about future donations based on the outcome of a U.N. investigation into Israel’s allegations. The U.N. internal oversight office, the body’s highest investigative authority, is looking into the allegations about the 12 UNRWA staff members, but no timeline for the investigation has been publicly announced.

Twenty aid organizations, including the Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam and Save the Children, said in a joint statement on Monday that UNRWA’s role in Gaza as the largest humanitarian agency was irreplaceable, and that the suspension in funding could result in a “complete collapse” of the aid response there.

“The population faces starvation, looming famine and an outbreak of disease under Israel’s continued indiscriminate bombardment and deliberate deprivation of aid in Gaza,” the groups said.

Doctors Without Borders, which has physicians and staff working in Gaza’s besieged hospitals, said in its own statement that the funding suspensions would lead to more death and suffering.

“Humanitarian organizations are already grappling to meet even a fraction of the urgent needs in Gaza,” the group said. “Much more aid is required to meet those needs, not less.”

Asked Monday under what circumstances the United States would restore funding to UNRWA, Antony J. Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, said the Biden administration would look at the steps the agency takes to thoroughly investigate the allegations, ensure accountability and put preventative measures in place.

While the United States has not independently investigated the allegations, Mr. Blinken said they were “highly, highly credible.”

Israel has presented evidence that one UNRWA worker kidnapped a woman during the Oct. 7 attack and that another took part in a massacre at a kibbutz. The agency has fired nine of the people accused; two of them are dead, according to the agency.

Israel has also alleged that roughly 10 percent of the agency’s 13,000 employees in Gaza are Hamas members. Juliette Touma, UNRWA’s director of communications, said in an interview on Tuesday that Israel had not presented that allegation, or any supporting information, to the agency.

“UNRWA is not in possession of either the names or any other information about this figure,” Ms. Touma said, adding: “We learned about it from the media.”

Michael Crowley and Patrick Kingsley contributed reporting.

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