Several countries temporarily halted their funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on Saturday due to allegations that 12 employees were involved in the Hamas massacre in Israel.
“Nine countries have as of today temporarily suspended their funding to UNRWA.
“These decisions threaten our ongoing humanitarian work across the region including and especially in the Gaza Strip,” Philippe Lazzarini said in a statement on the UNRWA website.
The aid organisation runs shelters for more than one million internally displaced people and provides food and basic medical care to most of the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip.
“Our humanitarian operation, on which two million people depend as a lifeline in Gaza, is collapsing,” he wrote on Saturday evening on the online platform X, formerly Twitter.
He said he was shocked that such decisions were being made on the basis of the presumed behaviour of a few people.
“Palestinians in Gaza did not need this additional collective punishment.
“This stains all of us,” Lazzarini added.
Important donors such as the U.S., Great Britain, and Germany decided to temporarily halt funding because 12 of the organisation’s several thousand employees in the Gaza Strip were allegedly involved in the Oct. 7 attacks.
They were dismissed immediately.
Lazzarini had announced that Israel had provided the aid organisation with information implicating UNRWA employees in the attacks.
He and UN Secretary General António Guterres expressed horror at the allegations, saying if proven, those involved would face criminal prosecution.
Israel’s foreign minister has called for Lazzarini’s resignation.
“Mr Lazzarini, please resign,” wrote Israel Katz on Saturday night on the online platform X, formerly Twitter.
Also on social media platform X, Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy accused UNRWA of being a front for Hamas.
“It literally covers up for Hamas,” he wrote on X.
Neither the UN nor Israel have detailed how the employees may have been involved in the Hamas attacks.
The UN agency did not initially say how the employees could have been involved in the massacre in Israel border communities that triggered the war in Gaza.
On Oct. 7, more than 1,200 people in Israel were killed in terrorist attacks by Hamas militants and other extremist groups, and more than 250 were kidnapped.
In response, Israel’s offensive has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians in Gaza and injured more than 64,400, the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry says.
The U.S., Canada, Australia, Britain, Finland, Italy, and other countries all called for investigations as they temporarily halted support for the agency founded in 1949 to help Palestinian refugees.
Germany will also temporarily not authorise any new funding for UNRWA in Gaza, the Foreign Office said on Saturday evening.
UNRWA has 13,000 staff in Gaza, most of them Palestinians, providing medical, education, relief and social services.
Its remit spans some 5.9 million people, including Palestinians who fled or were expelled in 1948 and their descendants.
The agency is active in Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories.
Germany’s Foreign Office said it was “deeply concerned” about the reports, the ministry said in a post on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
Italy also halted financial support but Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani added that Rome is “committed to providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people and protecting Israel’s security.”
The British government said it was “appalled by allegations that UNRWA staff were involved in the Oct. 7 attack against Israel.”
“We remain committed to getting humanitarian aid to the people in Gaza who desperately need it,” London added.
More than 2 million people in Gaza have depended on aid since the war began and international pressure is mounting on Israel given the catastrophic conditions in the narrow strip and soaring death toll.
Lazzarini has described the October attacks as heinous.
At the time, there were unconfirmed reports that UNRWA teachers had celebrated the massacre. A likewise unconfirmed Israeli media report said a hostage had been held by one of the organization’s employees. Neither claim could be independently verified.
Hamas condemned UNRWA for its allegations and for demanding the release of the hostages kidnapped from Israel, saying it is not the agency’s job to express political positions in the conflict.
Earlier on Saturday, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz accused the UN organization of having many employees who are Hamas members and supporting terrorism.
He demanded the organization should no longer play a role in Gaza after the end of the war. “UNRWA is not the solution,” he said in a post on X.
Hamas said the allegations were an Israeli smear campaign against international organizations that help Palestinians. “The unscrupulous Nazi entity” is trying to “cut off all the lifelines of our people,” it said.
On the ground, fighting raged on in Gaza in the city of Khan Younis in the south, with further casualties inflicted on Palestinian forces, according to the Israeli military on Saturday.
Three Palestinians who had planted explosives near Israeli troops were killed in an airstrike, while soldiers killed “numerous armed terrorists at close range,” officials said.
In another incident in the city, seven people were reportedly killed after firing rocket-propelled grenades at the army.
According to eyewitnesses, thousands of people have fled Khan Younis in recent days due to the fierce fighting in the city, the largest in the south of Gaza and a reputed stronghold of the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement.
Israel suspects the leadership of the militant organisation and Israeli hostages to be concealed in the network of tunnels under the area.
There are also repeated exchanges on the border between Israel and Lebanon, and Israel unleashed missile strikes in the volatile border area with Lebanon.
Israeli warplanes raided the edges of the town of Marwahin in southern Lebanon, firing two air-to-surface missiles, amid an escalation between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.
Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and is an ally of Hamas, has a heavy presence in the southern Lebanese villages close to the border with Israel.
Hezbollah claimed that its fighters launched three missile attacks on the posts of Israeli forces near the border and caused “direct hits.”
There has been an uptick in confrontations between Hezbollah and Israeli forces on the border since the eruption of the Gaza war on Oct. 7, leading to casualties on both sides.
The violence has forced tens of thousands of residents in both countries to leave their homes.