UN agency in Gaza on brink of collapse after ‘shocking’ decisions to halt aid, says chief

The UN’s aid agency in Gaza is on the brink of collapse, its head has said, after nine nations including the US and UK decided to suspend funding over allegations that several agency workers participated in the Hamas attack against Israel.

The Foreign Office said in a statement that the UK was “appalled” by allegations that UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) 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.”

UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini 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.

The UN official 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.”

This comes a day after Mr Lazzarini said several UN agency employees were fired and are being investigated over allegations that they participated in the 7 October attack by Hamas on Israel.

“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.

At least 12 agency employees are now under investigation, the US said, shortly before it announced it was suspending funding.

It 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.

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 has 13,000 employees in Gaza, mostly Palestinians.

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.

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