Japan joins allies in pausing funding for UN agency in Gaza over ‘extremely concerning’ claims

Japan has joined other countries in suspending funding for the United Nations agency in Gaza over “extremely concerning” claims that some UN workers were involved in the 7 October Hamas attack in southern Israel.

In a statement, Japan’s foreign press secretary Kobayashi Maki said: “Japan is extremely concerned about the alleged involvement of UNRWA staff members in the terror attack on Israel on October 7 last year.

“In response, Japan has decided to suspend additional funding to UNRWA for the time being while UNRWA conducts an investigation into the matter and considers measures to address the allegations.”

The UK joined the US in suspending funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees after the “appalling” allegations surfaced. With Japan, the list of countries now extends to 10, including Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands Switzerland and Finland.

Japan said it has been “strongly urging UNRWA to conduct the investigation in a prompt and complete manner and to take appropriate measures, including strengthening governance within UNRWA, so that UNRWA can firmly fulfil the role it should play.”

It continued: “At the same time, Japan will continue to make persistent and active diplomatic efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and to calm down the situation as soon as possible by providing support to other international organisations.”

The UNRWA coordinates humanitarian aid for Gaza and is a major employer of some 13,000 people in the Strip, most of them Palestinians. They range from teachers in schools run by the agency to doctors and other medical staff.

The agency says it has fired the workers accused of involvement in the 7 October attack, which killed 1,200 people are triggered Israel’s ground offensive into Gaza. The allegations are still under investigation, with the US saying 12 UN workers are suspected of involvement.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, said most of Gaza’s 2 million population rely heavily on the agency’s work for their survival.

He criticised the countries for suspending aid, saying it amounted to “collective punishment” for the whole of Gaza and left the agency’s operations on the brink of collapse.

Israeli officials have frequently accused UNRWA of allowing anti-Israeli incitement. The Trump administration suspended funding to the agency in 2018, but it was restored by Joe Biden.

“The abhorrent alleged acts of these staff members must have consequences. But the tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA, many in some of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be penalised,” UNRWA commissioner-general Philippe Lazzarini said.

“The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met.”

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres also appealed to the countries that suspended funding to the UN agency to reconsider their decisions.

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