On Monday, the EU announced it is reviewing its funding of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and payments would be stopped until the end of February. The EU demanded an “urgent audit” following the allegations by the Israeli authorities that some UNRWA staff participated in Hamas’s October 7 attack.

“What is absolutely clear is that these actions are urgent. They are important and they should be launched without any delay.”

European Commission Chief Spokesperson Eric Mamer

The audit must be led by Commission-appointed experts and conducted alongside a UN investigation into the claims, it said. The commission statement also stated that humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank “will continue unabated through partner organisations”.

UNRWA warns of humanitarian disaster

The Wall Street Journal reported, quoting an Israeli dossier, that ten percent of Palestinian UNRWA employees “have close links” to terror organisations operating in Gaza. The New York Times reported previously, referring to the dossier, that one UNRWA employee had been involved in the kidnapping of a woman from Israel, another had distributed ammunition and a third had been involved in a massacre in a kibbutz in which 97 people died. The dossier contains allegations against a total of twelve UNRWA employees. Washington categorises them as credible. 

As a reaction, UNRWA has fired several staff members over Israel’s accusations, which have prompted numerous countries, including the United States, France, Britain, Germany and Japan, to announce they were suspending further funding to the UN agency. Decisions that the UN agency’s Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini described as “shocking”, stressing that more than two million people in Gaza “depend on UNRWA for their mere survival”. He urged the countries to “reconsider their decisions”. UNRWA said it would have to end operations within a month if funding was not restored.

The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths has described UNRWA as the “centrepiece” of humanitarian care for the people of the Gaza Strip. The life-saving work of UNRWA in the course of the war “should not be jeopardised by accusations of the alleged actions of a few individuals”, said Griffiths at a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York on Wednesday. Griffiths was appalled by the allegations and said that all efforts would therefore be made to guarantee the world’s demands for a politically neutral organisation.

Guterres calls on countries to continue support

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has promised an urgent independent review of UNRWA but also pleaded for donor states to “guarantee the continuity” of the agency for the sake of “the desperate populations” it serves.

Slovenia has joined Guterres’s call for countries to continue the funding of UNRWA, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement to the news agency STA on Tuesday. Freezing funds would jeopardise UNRWA and put the lives of Palestinians in the Middle East at risk. Slovenia thus allocated 1.2 million euros for the agency last year, the most so far. A decision of the country’s contribution for this year has not yet been made. 

Borrell: ‘There is no alternative to UNRWA’

On February 1, at the sidelines of the European summit, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, warned that hundreds of thousands of people would perish if funding would stop. “If you cut the funding to UNRWA, you are punishing the whole Palestinian people. There is no alternative to UNRWA (…)  if you want to keep these people alive. So, no collective punishment to the Palestinian people,” he stressed. 

Spain will not withdraw its support

Spain, which has always been firm with the proposal to recognise a Palestinian State, will maintain its support, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, assured on Monday. It will, however, closely follow the investigations. Albares emphasised that only a dozen of the agency’s approximately 30,000 employees are being investigated, of which 13,000 work in Gaza and carry out “essential” work in support of the population of the strip.

This prompted the Israeli Minister of the Diaspora, Amichai Chikli, to affirm that UNRWA “is Hamas” and that Israel is “extremely disappointed” that Spain has not withdrawn its funding from the agency. 

Belgium continues support given the ‘high humanitarian needs’

On Wednesday after the United Nations briefed donors on their investigation, Belgium announced to continue their funding for the time being, “given the high humanitarian needs and the threat of famine in Gaza”, Development Cooperation Minister Caroline Gennez (of the social-democratic party Vooruit) stated. UN briefings indicate that Israeli security forces have not yet shared evidence with them or the other donors.

Belgium will await results from an investigation into possible links between members of UNRWA staff and the Palestinian extremist organisation Hamas. “If the allegations are confirmed, very strict action must be taken. It is absolutely unacceptable for staff to be involved in, or glorify, the barbaric terrorist attacks of October 7,” Gennez said.

Austria, Croatia, Germany, Romania and Sweden to suspend payments

The Romanian Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that it has suspended its voluntary payments to UNRWA. “’Until the investigation is concluded, the ministry will not make any new voluntary contributions to UNRWA’,” the ministry said.  

Croatia did not plan any donations to UNRWA in 2024. In the past, it made donations “only exceptionally, upon appeal”, the Foreign Ministry told the Croatian News Agency Hina. Since the beginning of the war, Croatia donated a total of 1.25 million euros in emergency humanitarian aid for the civilian population of Gaza. UNRWA obtained 250,000 euros in emergency humanitarian assistance for the civilian population of Gaza, according to the ministry.

Sweden, traditionally a strong ally of UNRWA, has decided to pause the funding while the Swedish development agency, SIDA, is investigating the situation. “I share the view that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is horrible. Sweden wants to help the civilian population, but we need to make sure that the support is not being used for the wrong things,” said the conservative Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in a press conference. The Swedish Social democrats criticised the decision to withdraw aid. “This could ruin the most important aid organisation for the Palestinians in a situation where millions of civilians are affected by war and at risk of starvation,” wrote Morgan Johansson, former minister of justice, on X.

On Monday, the Austrian Foreign Office stated that “the allegations (…) are deeply shocking and extremely disturbing”. All contributions to UNRWA have been suspended “until all these allegations have been fully clarified”. The Austrian contribution to UNRWA is divided into an annual contribution of around 400,000 euros and project-related contributions of three million Euros per year for a health project. However, as the Foreign Ministry noted, Austria is continuing to help the suffering civilian population in the Gaza Strip through other channels. Since October 7, a total of 13 million euros in humanitarian aid has been provided for this purpose. 

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who suspended the aid for the moment,  demanded quick investigations. “The situation in Gaza is simply hell,” said the Green politician on Wednesday in Berlin. UNRWA is almost the sole provider of supplies in Gaza, as all other aid organisations there “can hardly be active at the moment”, she said. Last year, Germany funded UNRWA with a total of 206.5 million euros. According to the German Foreign Office, Germany will not authorise new payments for the time of the investigation. In any case, no new commitments are currently pending.

EPP calls for debate on UNRWA at EP plenary in Strasbourg 

The European People’s Party is requesting a debate on UNRWA’s alleged participation in the Hamas attacks at next week’s EP plenary in Strasbourg, the Swedish MEP David Lega, member of the Committees on Foreign Affairs and Human Rights, announced on X. “There can be no business as usual – we must once and for all stop funding terrorism,” he wrote.

Possible deal?

Protesters block road during a protest calling for immediate release of all the Israeli hostages in Gaza.
Protesters block road during a protest calling for immediate release of all the Israeli hostages in Gaza. Foto: Ilia Yefimovich/dpa

The Times of Israel reported that the Israeli secret service Mossad informed the ministers of the war cabinet on Monday of the outlines of a possible agreement. These envisage the release of 35 female, sick, injured and elderly hostages in a first phase in which the fighting would pause for 35 days. This would be followed by a further one-week ceasefire, during which the negotiators would also attempt to release young men and hostages, who Hamas considers to be soldiers.

A central point that is not yet resolved, is Hama’’ demand that the agreement provide for a permanent ceasefire, which Israel has ruled out. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly emphasised that Israel will stick to its goals of destroying Hamas and ensuring that Gaza no longer poses a threat to Israel. An agreement for the release of the hostages could be resolved soon but Israel stressed again “not at any price”, Netanyahu said on Wednesday evening.

This article is published weekly. The content is based on news by agencies participating in the enr.