Don’t penalize humanitarian workers – UN secretary-general to West
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on Western nations not to penalize relief workers after the US and several other major donors suspended funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The official also promised to hold accountable any employee shown to be involved in terrorist activities.
Earlier this month, Israel provided its Western allies with what it described as evidence proving that at least 12 UNRWA staff had taken part in the deadly October 7 Hamas incursion into Israeli territory. The news site Axios quoted an anonymous senior Israeli official as saying that “this was strong and corroborated intelligence,” which included captured Palestinian militants’ confessions.
In a statement released on Sunday, Guterres wrote that despite the seriousness of the allegations, “the tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA… should not be penalized.” He noted that 2 million civilians in Gaza depend on the aid provided by the agency to survive. He urged the donor nations “that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations.”
Guterres pointed out that the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services had launched an investigation into the claims. He added that “any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.”
According to the statement, UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Philippe Lazzarini, had immediately terminated nine staff members suspected of terrorist activity, while another one had died. The UN secretary-general said that the identities of the two other staff members are still being clarified.
On Friday, the US Department of State announced that it had “temporarily paused additional funding for UNRWA while we review these allegations.”
Several other nations, including the UK, Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, and Australia, followed suit soon after.
According to UNRWA’s website, Washington was its biggest contributor in 2022.
In a post on X (formerly Twitter) on Friday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant hailed the US decision to suspend funding to the UN agency. He called for “major changes” within the relief body “so that international efforts, funds, and humanitarian initiatives don’t fuel Hamas terrorism and the murder of Israelis.”
Israel has long accused the UN of aiding and abetting Hamas. In October, Israel demanded the resignation of Guterres, accusing him of “justifying terrorism.”
On October 7, Hamas carried out a surprise attack on southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking more than 200 people hostage. Israel responded by declaring war on Hamas and launching a massive military operation in Gaza. More than 26,000 Palestinians have since been killed, according to local health authorities.