update deskIsrael at War

‘Extremely troubled’ by allegations 12 UNRWA staff took part in Oct. 7 attack, US suspends funding

"I have taken the decision to immediately terminate the contracts of these staff members and launch an investigation," said Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA commissioner-general.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), during a visit at al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on Oct. 12, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), during a visit at al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on Oct. 12, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

The United States is suspending additional funding to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East temporarily as it reviews charges that 12 UNRWA employees took part in Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel.

“The United States is extremely troubled by the allegations,” stated Matthew Miller, the U.S. State Department spokesman. Miller added that the United States is reviewing “the steps the United Nations is taking to address them.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with António Guterres, U.N. secretary-general, on Jan. 25 “to emphasize the necessity of a thorough and swift investigation of this matter,” Miller stated on Friday.

“We welcome the decision to conduct such an investigation and Secretary General Guterres’s pledge to take decisive action to respond, should the allegations prove accurate,” Miller said. “We also welcome the U.N.’s announcement of a ‘comprehensive and independent’ review of UNRWA.”

“There must be complete accountability for anyone who participated in the heinous attacks of Oct. 7,” Miller added.

Washington has also contacted the Israeli government “to seek more information about these allegations” and has briefed members of Congress. “We will remain in close contact with the United Nations and government of Israel regarding this matter,” Miller said.

He added that UNRWA “plays a critical role in providing lifesaving assistance to Palestinians, including essential food, medicine, shelter and other vital humanitarian support.”

UNRWA has long been accused of antisemitism, including that its teachers glorify Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, that aid is passing through its hands to Hamas and that Hamas terrorists hide in its schools.

“The Israeli authorities have provided UNRWA with information about the alleged involvement of several UNRWA employees in the horrific attacks on Israel on Oct. 7,” stated Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA commissioner-general.

“To protect the agency’s ability to deliver humanitarian assistance, I have taken the decision to immediately terminate the contracts of these staff members and launch an investigation in order to establish the truth without delay,” Lazzarini said. “Any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.”

“UNRWA reiterates its condemnation in the strongest possible terms of the abhorrent attacks of Oct. 7 and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all Israeli hostages and their safe return to their families,” he added. “These shocking allegations come as more than 2 million people in Gaza depend on lifesaving assistance that the agency has been providing since the war began. Anyone who betrays the fundamental values of the United Nations also betrays those whom we serve in Gaza, across the region and elsewhere around the world.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chair of the House Global Human Rights and International Organizations Subcommittee, referred to the Biden administration’s decision to suspend funding for UNRWA temporarily as “long overdue and still a feeble response to the massive and irrefutable evidence of UNRWA’s extensive and long-term connivance, complicity, and even cooperation in Hamas’s terror campaign.”

“When faced with the mountain of information, president [Donald] Trump suspended all U.S. funding to UNRWA, but tragically, the Biden administration resumed support for UNRWA,” Smith stated. “Now, in view of public pressure motivated by explosive new evidence of UNRWA’s involvement in the Oct. 7 terror attack, the Biden administration has announced a review of the limited allegations relating to Oct. 7.”

“That’s totally insufficient,” he added. “What we need is a comprehensive, fact-based approach to UNRWA that stops all funding and conditions future funding on a complete head-to-toe reform and restructuring of UNRWA.”

Cesspool of antisemitic hate

Pastor John Hagee, founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel, stated that he he is “appalled, but I am not surprised.”

“The U.N. is a cesspool of anti-Israel hatred, and UNRWA is one of the primary organs associated with normalizing and institutionalizing international antisemitism,” he added. “Reinstating funding for UNRWA was a mistake. We knew UNRWA was complicit in Hamas’s antisemitic indoctrination of generations of Gazans, but it’s clear they’ve taken the next logical step: joining Hamas’s terrorist ranks.”

“While we welcome the decision to stop funding UNRWA, the Biden administration should make this temporary pause permanent,” added Sandra Parker, chair of CUFI Action Fund.

“Unfortunately, the State Department’s action in this context is typical of their too little, too late approach to the Middle East. No U.S. taxpayer dollars should’ve been flowing to UNRWA, just as no sanctions relief should’ve been provided Iran,” Parker added. “I’d love to believe the Biden administration has learned its lesson, but how much time do we really believe will pass before the White House turns the spigot back on?”

Mark Mellman, president and CEO of the Democratic Majority for Israel, welcomed the State Department’s announcement.

“U.N. employees are required to be neutral in politics and to avoid criminal activity. UNRWA and its employees have long violated those principles. That UNRWA employees actively participated in savage terrorism is a deplorable and permanent stain on the U.N. and on UNRWA,” Mellman said. “Providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians is a vital objective, but it must be done in a way that doesn’t support terrorism.”

Democratic Majority for Israel has called regularly for UNRWA, which “has long incited hatred and violence,” to be reformed.

“Through its statements and actions, UNRWA has become a serious obstacle to peace. We now find that its employees also participate in mass murder, torture, and kidnapping. Donors must insist on a complete overhaul and reform of UNRWA,” Mellman said. “We urge the administration to make the current pause the beginning of that root-and-branch remaking of this agency which is badly off track.”

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