UN chief asks donor countries for ‘continuity’ in Gaza agency operations

UNITED NATIONS: UN chief Antonio Guterres pleaded on Saturday (Jan 27) for donor states to “guarantee the continuity” of the body’s Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) after several halted funding over accusations of staff involvement in Hamas’ Oct 7 attack on Israel.

“While I understand their concerns – I was myself horrified by these accusations – I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations,” Guterres said in a statement, referring to the agency’s acronym.

Israel has alleged several UNRWA staff were involved in Hamas’ attack, leading some key donor countries to suspend their funding.

UNRWA fired several staff over Israel’s accusations, promising a thorough investigation into the claims, which were not specified, while Israel vowed to stop the agency’s work in Gaza after the war.

The row between Israel and UNRWA follows the UN’s International Court of Justice ruling on Friday that Israel must prevent possible acts of genocide in the conflict and allow more aid into Gaza.

“The abhorrent alleged acts of these staff members must have consequences,” Guterres said.

“But the tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA, many in some of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be penalised,” he added.

“The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met.”

Guterres confirmed that 12 UNRWA employees were cited in the accusations, which the United Nations is investigating.

Nine have been fired, one is dead, and the “the identity of the two others is being clarified,” he said.

Several key donor countries to UNRWA have said they will temporarily suspend their current or future following accusations, including the United States, Britain, Canada and Switzerland.

Hamas slammed Israeli “threats” against UNRWA on Saturday, urging the UN and other international organizations not to “cave in to the threats and blackmail”.

The group’s Oct 7 attack resulted in about 1,140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Militants also seized about 250 hostages and Israel says around 132 of them remain in Gaza, including the bodies of at least 28 dead captives.

Israel’s military offensive, which began in late October, has killed at least 26,257 people, most of them women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

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