Aid groups appeal to EU to release urgent funds for UNRWA

Humanitarian aid groups appeal to the European Union to release tens of millions of euros in funding due to the main UN agency that delivers most aid to people in the Gaza Strip as the organization teeters on the brink of financial collapse.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, was due to disburse 82 million euros ($89 million) to the UNRWA aid agency on February 29.

UNRWA said that it still hadn’t received the payment as of this morning.

“This is a moment of reckoning for the EU as a humanitarian leader and a critical donor for this crisis,” says Niamh Nic Carthaigh, from Plan International’s EU Liaison Office.

“Any further cuts to UNRWA funding would be an effective death sentence for civilians trapped in Gaza and the region who rely on the agency for their survival,” she says in a joint statement from 17 aid groups, including the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and Oxfam.

UNRWA is reeling from allegations that 12 of its 13,000 Gaza staff members participated in the October 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel when thousands of Palestinian terrorists went on a killing spree, slaughtering 1,200 people and taking 253 hostage.

The agency immediately fired the employees, but more than a dozen countries suspended funding worth about $450 million, almost half its budget for 2024.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini has described the payment due from the EU as “absolutely critical.”

The agency has been the main supplier of food, water and shelter during the war in Gaza. Lazzarini has warned that it may be forced to suspend its work soon.

Two UN investigations into Israel’s allegations against the agency are underway, but the European Commission -– the third biggest donor to UNRWA after the United States and Germany -– has demanded a separate audit and wants to appoint experts to carry it out.

A preliminary report is due to be published in the next several weeks.

Israel, which provided the evidence of UNRWA members participating in the attack, has said the mandate for the probes is too vague and won’t prevent terrorists from taking advantage of the organization in the future.

Israel has said Hamas used UNRWA facilities for its own purposes and built parts of its massive underground network of tunnels and military facilities underneath the UN organization’s sites. It recently took multiple media outlets to tour one such operations center under UNRWA’s headquarters in Gaza City.

Asked today how the audit is evolving and when funds might be released, European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said that “work is ongoing.”

“The plight of the Palestinian people is of utmost concern to us. At the same time, we have set out a number of points that need to be agreed with UNRWA before we make our decision on the next payment, which is indeed foreseen for the end of the month,” Mamer says.

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