UNRWA says it has enough money to last until May after some nations resume funding

Gaza’s Palestinian aid agency, in funding shortage after Israel accused some employees of taking part in Oct. 7 massacre, initially said it would run out of money this month

People walk past the damaged Gaza City headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on February 15, 2024. (AFP)
People walk past the damaged Gaza City headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on February 15, 2024. (AFP)

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has enough funds to keep operating until at least the end of May, its chief told Swiss media on Tuesday.

UNRWA, which coordinates nearly all aid to Gaza, has faced severe funding cuts since Israel accused at least a dozen of its 13,000 employees in the Strip of taking part in Hamas’s murderous onslaught against Israel on October 7.

Israel also uncovered a Hamas control center directly below the UNRWA’s Gaza headquarters, though the agency claimed it had no idea it was there.

This led many donor nations, including the United States, to abruptly suspend funding to the agency, threatening its efforts to deliver desperately needed aid in Gaza, where the UN has warned of an impending famine.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini had warned last month that the funding crunch was so great the organization might not be able to operate beyond March.

But after a number of countries recently resumed or increased their funding, including Spain, Canada and Australia, Lazzarini told Switzerland’s Keystone-ATS news agency Tuesday that “the situation today is less dramatic.”

The commissioner-general of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the UNRWA headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, December 6, 2023. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

“But we are still working from one month to the next,” he said, adding that now “we have funding until the end of May.”

Lazzarini was in Geneva to brief Switzerland’s parliamentary foreign policy commission on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and to address questions about Israel’s accusations against the UNRWA employees, the commission said in a brief statement.

The Swiss national is hoping to convince his country to follow the lead of the nations that have resumed their funding to UNRWA.

Switzerland, which in recent years has dished out around 20 million Swiss francs ($22 million) annually to UNRWA, said in late January the 2024 payment was in doubt following Israel’s allegations against the agency.

The UN has launched both an internal and an independent investigation, but has said Israel has not provided it with any evidence to support the claims against its staff.

Lazzarini has accused Israel of trying to destroy UNRWA, which employs some 30,000 people across the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

IDF soldiers take up position as they enter the UNRWA headquarters, where the military discovered tunnels underneath the UN agency that the military says Hamas terrorists used to attack its forces during a ground operation in Gaza, February 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

He claimed last week to have been barred from entering Gaza and said over the weekend that Israel had definitively barred the agency from making aid deliveries into northern Gaza, where the threat of famine is highest. COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry body governing civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, said on X that Lazzarini had not followed “the necessary coordination processes and channels” when requesting entry into Gaza.

Israel has started working with other groups in Gaza, such as the UN World Food Programme, to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinians instead of UNRWA, which it has said it is seeking to shut down following years of allegations.

A watchdog said in a new report that textbooks used in UNRWA schools in Gaza contain anti-Israel incitement, including the systematic erasure of Israel’s existence and the glorification of violent jihad and martyrdom.

The war in Gaza started on October 7 with Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel in which terrorists murdered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 253.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza claims that more than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel in the war, but the number cannot be independently verified as it is believed to include both Hamas terrorists and civilians, some of whom were killed as a consequence of the terror group’s own rocket misfires.

The IDF says it has killed over 13,000 terrorists in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 who were killed inside Israel on and immediately following October 7.

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