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UN Palestinian refugee agency’s importance felt throughout Middle East

Countries including US, Germany and Britain pause support after allegations via Israel of agency staff implicated in Hamas attacks

The United Nations Palestinian refugee agency (Unrwa) said on Monday that it would not be able to continue operations in Gaza and across the region beyond the end of February if funding were not resumed.

A string of countries including the United States, Germany and Britain have paused their funding to the aid agency in the wake of allegations by Israel that 12 Unrwa staff were involved in the October 7th attacks by Hamas in southern Israel.

“If the funding is not resumed, Unrwa will not be able to continue its services and operations across the region, including in Gaza, beyond the end of February,” said an agency spokesperson.

The Palestinian presidency has criticised the suspension of aid to Unrwa, which supports 5.7 million refugees in the Middle East. “Such positions, if maintained, would disproportionately punish millions of our people without just cause,” said the presidency.


Unrwa dismissed Gaza employees accused by Israel of involvement in the October 7th attack on Israel. The UN has mounted an independent investigation into the charges.

The European Union announced on Monday that humanitarian aid to Gaza and the West Bank “will continue unabated through partner organisations” until the end of February. It said while no additional aid will be provided, maintaining funding beyond that date would depend on the outcome of the investigation and UN controls on staff to prevent involvement in “terrorist activities”.

Unwra chief Philippe Lazzarini has warned that “life-saving assistance is about to end” for Gaza’s 2.3 million people who depend on Unrwa for survival. Unrwa employs 13,000 people in Gaza. Despite the deaths of 152 Unrwa staff and the dispersal and dispossession of others, 3,000 have continued to provide shelter, food, water and basic healthcare.

While the focus has been on Gaza, deprivation of funds could also jeopardise Unrwa’s operations which benefit 3.4 million Palestinian refugees in restive East Jerusalem and the West Bank; crisis-ridden Lebanon and Syria, and resource-poor Jordan. Unrwa commissioners have repeatedly warned that the agency’s collapse could destabilise the region.

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Unrwa was established in 1949 to aid 750,000 Palestinians driven from their homes, villages, and towns during Israel’s 1948 war of establishment. Israeli authorities have long called for the agency to be dismantled, arguing that it fosters anti-Israeli sentiment among its staff, in its schools and its wider social mission. Unrwa strongly disputes this. Israel has also accused Unrwa of co-operating with Hamas in Gaza, although the agency has been obliged to deal with the Hamas administration.

Israel wants Palestinians living in Syria and Lebanon — where they do not have citizenship — to be assimilated. Jordan has absorbed the majority who live in the country, but they retain their Palestinian identity.

Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz said on X: “UNRWA’s ties with Hamas, providing refuge for terrorists, and perpetuating its rule are undeniable.” He added that when Gaza rebuilds, Unrwa “must be replaced with agencies dedicated to genuine peace and development”. — Additional reporting: Reuters