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Britain, Italy and Finland pause funding for UN refugee agency in Gaza

January 27, 2024 at 3:43 pm

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid for Palestinians that entered Gaza through Rafah border crossing on the Egyptian border arrive at the UNRWA warehouse, in Deir al Balah, Gaza on October 21, 2023. [Ashraf Amra – Anadolu Agency]

Britain, Italy and Finland on Saturday became the latest countries to pause funding for the United Nations’ refugee agency for Palestinians (UNRWA), following allegations its staff were involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, Reuters reports.

Set up to help refugees of the 1948 war at Israel’s founding, UNRWA provides education, health and aid services to Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. It helps about two thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million population and has played a pivotal aid role during the current war.

The United States, Australia and Canada had already paused funding to the aid agency after Israel said 12 UNRWA employees were involved in the cross-border attack. The agency has opened an investigation into several employees severed ties with them.

The Palestinian foreign ministry criticised what it described as an Israeli campaign against UNRWA, and the Hamas militant group condemned the termination of employee contracts “based on information derived from the Zionist enemy.”

The UK Foreign Office said it was temporarily pausing funding for UNRWA while the accusations were reviewed and noted London had condemned the Oct. 7 attacks as “heinous” terrorism.

“The Italian government has suspended financing of the UNRWA after the atrocious attack on Israel on October 7,” Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said on social media platform X.

Finland also said it suspended funding.

Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Palestinians’ umbrella political body the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said cutting support brought major political and relief risks.

“We call on countries that announced the cessation of their support for UNRWA to immediately reverse their decision,” he said on X.

READ: UNRWA probes staff suspected of role in 7 October attack on Israel