Gaza conflict: Israel pressing US and others to continue funding Unrwa - report

Occupying Israeli army would be obliged to assume responsibilities for Gaza’s 2.3m displaced and distressed Palestinians if Unrwa disbanded now

Israel has reportedly pressed Washington and other donors to resume funding for Unrwa, the United Nations agency caring for 5.7 million Palestine refugees in the Middle East.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Israeli envoys met senior Biden administration officials and UN secretary general Antonio Guterres to call for Unrwa to continue operating until the war ends. It has demanded that the agency be “deeply reformed or abolished” after the war.

If Unrwa was disabled now, the Israeli army, as the occupying force, would be obliged to assume its responsibilities for Gaza’s 2.3 million displaced and distressed Palestinians, 70 per cent of whom are refugees, as well as 871,000 refugees in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The United States, Germany and other major donors have suspended funding following Israeli allegations that 12 agency employees out of 13,000 staff took part in the October 7th attack on Israel by Hamas. Unrwa promptly dismissed nine of the employees. One of the employees had died and two could not be traced.


Countries who withdrew funding have demanded a prompt investigation before they will resume donations.

However, two inquiries are not set to conclude by the end of this month, by which time Unrwa has warned it may cease operations if it does not receive an injection of money.

Donations of €3.5 million from Spain and €1 million from Portugal have not met the agency’s needs. This week, Unrwa chief Philippe Lazzarini is visiting the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait to raise funds. While Kuwait and Qatar have donated to Unrwa, all three have sponsored hospitals and other projects in Gaza which have been damaged or destroyed.

The UN office of internal oversight services (OIOS) expects to conclude its Unrwa investigation in March.

In parallel, the UN has appointed a committee headed by France’s former foreign minister Catherine Colonna to assess the agency’s neutrality and its response “to allegations of serious breaches”. The group’s interim report is due in late March and its final assessment is due in late April.

Created by the UN in 1949 to provide for Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes and villages during Israel’s 1948 war, Unrwa has always relied on donors. Today, Unrwa serves 5.7 million refugees in the region. While UN agencies argue Israel’s war has rendered Gaza “uninhabitable”, Unrwa’s schools and health centres host one million Gazans, and it provides food for two million.

The World Health Organisation has reported that 100,000 people in Gaza “are either dead, injured, or missing and presumed dead” due to Israeli bombing and battles with Hamas.

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Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times