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US pulls funding from UN organization due to staff’s alleged involvement in Hamas terror attack

The United States has halted funding for a United Nations body known as UNRWA over allegations that twelve of its staff members were involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel that killed hundreds of civilians and triggered a major regional conflict.

“The Department of State has temporarily paused additional funding for UNRWA while we review these allegations and the steps the United Nations is taking to address them,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

Mr. Miller added that the United States is “extremely troubled” by the allegations of potential UNRWA employee involvement in the Oct. 7 terror attack by the Hamas terror group, which shocked many with its brutality against civilians, including women and children.

UNRWA is the acronym for the United Nations Relief and Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, which was established in 1949 to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees.

Its area of operations includes the Gaza Strip, where Israel has been carrying out a military campaign to neutralize the Hamas terror group, whose operatives use the area to stage attacks against Israel.

Mr. Miller said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday about the need for a thorough and swift investigation into the allegations of UNRWA staff involvement in the brutal attacks.

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Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General, said that Mr. Guterres was “horrified” by the news and ordered an “urgent and comprehensive independent review.”

‘Shocking’ Allegations Prompt Investigation

Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA Commissioner-General, said in a statement Friday that Israeli authorities had provided the agency with information about the alleged involvement of several UNRWA staff members in the Oct. 7 attacks, which he described as “horrific.”

Calling the allegations “shocking,” Mr. Lazzarini said he had made the decision to terminate the contracts of these UNRWA employees immediately and launch an investigation.

“Any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution,” he added.

The U.N. chief’s spokesperson said that UNRWA would commission an “independent expert review” of the allegations.

The U.S. State Department said it welcomes the decision for an investigation.

“There must be accountability for anyone who participated in the heinous attacks of Oct. 7,” Mr. Miller said, adding that Members of Congress have been briefed on the matter, and the United States has reached out to the Israeli government for more information.

The U.S. decision to halt funding to UNRWA was praised by Yoav Gallant, the Israeli Minister of Defense.

“At least a dozen UNRWA employees participated in the horrific attack conducted on Oct. 7—these are ‘humanitarian workers’ with blood on their hands,” he said in a statement on X.

“Major changes need to take place so that international efforts, funds, and humanitarian initiatives don’t fuel Hamas terrorism and the murder of Israelis. Terrorism under the guise of humanitarian work is a disgrace to the @UN and the principles it claims to represent,” Mr. Gallant added.

UNRWA has faced long-running criticism from Israel and others, who accuse the group of coordinating with groups that the United States designates as terrorists, as well as of using teaching materials in Palestinian schools that foster anti-semitism and jihadism.

UNRWA Controversy

Some see UNRWA as a critical provider of services to beleaguered Arab populations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, while others see it as an enabler of the crisis and an obstacle to peace—and many say it’s both.

Israel has long maintained that Hamas has used UNRWA-operated schools and health facilities in Gaza to shield its terror operations.

“It was born in sin, it exists in sin, and it operates in sin,” Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said of UNRWA in an earlier interview with The Epoch Times.

“This is a political organization that, at the beginning, served the interests of Arab states that didn’t want to absorb Palestinian refugees into their countries,” he said.

Tents for Palestinians seeking refuge are set up on the grounds of a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) center in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on Oct. 19, 2023. (Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images)
Tents for Palestinians seeking refuge are set up on the grounds of a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) center in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on Oct. 19, 2023. (Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images)

“They don’t want to rehabilitate Palestinian refugees. They want to keep them in camps and perpetuate their refugee status. It is the central pillar of the Palestinian ethos. This is the excuse for their victimhood. This is why they can get money from the international community and why they don’t have to be responsible.

“Unfortunately, the international community cooperates with Palestine and UNRWA. Now, under the circumstances of the war, it can’t be dismantled. It’s needed for humanitarian aid. But after the war, the first thing that should be done is the dismantling of the UNRWA and the refugee camps in the Gaza Strip,” Mr. Michael added.

Susan Akram, a professor at the Boston University School of Law and director of its International Human Rights Clinic, provided a different viewpoint on UNRWA.

“It is pretty effective for those who approach it from the perspective of international law,” she told The Epoch Times in an earlier interview. “We would not call it controversial. UNRWA was established with a very particular mandate (given to it by the U.N. in 1949), and it has continued to carry out that mandate.”

The U.S. State Department spokesperson acknowledged UNRWA’s positive contributions to the region but emphasized the need for the organization to eliminate any individuals involved in wrongdoing.

“UNRWA plays a critical role in providing lifesaving assistance to Palestinians, including essential food, medicine, shelter, and other vital humanitarian support,” Mr. Miller said in a statement.

“Their work has saved lives, and it is important that UNRWA address these allegations and take any appropriate corrective measures, including reviewing its existing policies and procedures,” he added.

Dan Berger contributed to this report.

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