ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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UNRWA must make ‘fundamental changes’ before funding can resume, US says

State Department says $300,000 withheld so far from agency’s funding amid freeze over some staffers alleged terrorism; US provides UNRWA with $300 to $400 million annually

Palestinians stand at the entrance of the UNRWA-run University College for Educational Science Ramallah city in the West Bank on January 29, 2024. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)
Palestinians stand at the entrance of the UNRWA-run University College for Educational Science Ramallah city in the West Bank on January 29, 2024. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

The US envoy to the United Nations said on Tuesday that Washington needs to see “fundamental changes” before its suspended funding to UNRWA can resume following Israeli allegations that some agency staff were involved in the October 7 attack by Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US Ambassador to the UN, welcomed the organization’s decision to conduct an investigation and review of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

“We need to look at the organization, how it operates in Gaza, how they manage their staff and to ensure that people who commit criminal acts, such as these 12 individuals, are held accountable immediately so that UNRWA can continue the essential work that it’s doing,” she said.

US State Department spokesman Matt Miller said Tuesday that roughly $300,000 earmarked for UNRWA has been withheld following the Biden administration’s decision to suspend funding.

However, the US was on pace to donate about 1,000 times that amount by the end of the fiscal year in September.

Roughly $121 million in US funding was already transferred to UNRWA since October 1.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during the Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, December 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Typically, the US provides UNRWA with between $300 and $400 million annually, making it the world’s largest donor to the agency, Miller noted during a press briefing.

The next major payment was not slated to be made until the summer but the exact figure will depend on the funds allocated by Congress in the supplemental funding package and the continuing resolution — both of which are being held up by congressional Republicans.

Miller said the US will make a decision regarding the frozen $300,000 as well as all future funding to UNRWA based off of the UN’s investigation into the allegations against its staff members.

Highlighting how serious the allegations were, the State Department spokesman said UNRWA already made the decision to fire eight of its staffers and to suspend an additional two. The US in its Friday announcement regarding the funding suspension said allegations were made against 12 UNRWA staffers. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Israeli intelligence links 1,200 UNRWA staffers to Hamas.

Typically, the US provides UNRWA with between $300 and $400 million annually, making it the world’s largest donor to the agency, according to US State Department Spokesman Matt Miller.

Roughly $121 million in US funding was already transferred to UNRWA between October 1 and last Friday’s decision to suspend funding pending an investigation.

The US was not alone in freezing funding following Israeli accusations as a cascade of countries did the same, including the UK, Germany and Japan.

Palestinian Hamas supporters hold placards during a protest demanding that countries resume funding of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, January 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Last week, an Israeli intelligence dossier alleged some 190 UNRWA employees have doubled as Hamas or Islamic Jihad terrorists and that some staff took part in abductions and killings during the October 7 onslaught that sparked the Gaza war.

On Tuesday, Israel further accused the UN agency of letting Hamas use its infrastructure in the Gaza Strip for terrorist activity.

“UNRWA is a front for Hamas,” government spokesman Eylon Levy said in a video statement. “It has been fundamentally compromised in three main ways: hiring terrorists on a massive scale, letting its infrastructure be used for Hamas military activity, and relying on Hamas for aid distribution in the Gaza Strip.”

The Palestinians, in turn, have accused Israel of falsifying information to tarnish UNRWA, which says it has fired some staffers and is investigating the allegations.

Earlier on Tuesday, the UN Security Council expressed concern about the “dire and rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation” in the Gaza Strip and urged all parties to work with the senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, Sigrid Kaag.

The statement by the 15-member council came after Kaag briefed the body behind closed doors for the first time since she was appointed about a month ago.

Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza Sigrid Kaag speaks during a press conference at the United Nations headquarters on January 30, 2024 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images North America/Getty Images via AFP)

Kaag said there was no substitute for the humanitarian role of UNRWA, which runs schools, healthcare clinics and other services in Gaza, as well as distributing aid.

“There is no way that any organization can replace or substitute the tremendous capacity, the fabric of UNRWA, the ability and their knowledge of the population in Gaza,” Kaag told reporters after briefing the Security Council.

Despite the allegations, Miller echoed the same sentiment, saying that the US still supports UNRWA’s “critical” work providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza.

“There is no other humanitarian player in Gaza who can provide food and water and medicine to at the scale that UNRWA does,” he said, adding that this is why the US wants the UN to thoroughly and speedily conduct its investigation so that such conduct by agency employees can never happen again and so it can continue to carry out its work in Gaza.

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