UNRWA: Restart aid to Palestinian UN agency, EU urges

Aerial view of camp in Deir Al Balah, to where Palestinians from Rafah and the northern Gaza Strip have fled
The UN's human rights chief says there is a "plausible" case that Israel is using starvation as a weapon of war in Gaza [EPA]

The EU has called on international donors to resume funding to Gaza's largest UN agency.

It comes after a review found that Israel had not provided evidence for its claim that thousands of UNRWA staff were members of terror groups.

Several nations halted funding to the agency after allegations that some employees took part in the Hamas attacks on Israel.

The US says it will not restart its aid until UNRWA makes "real progress".

UNRWA, which provides healthcare, education and humanitarian aid to Palestinians, employs 13,000 people in Gaza.

EU humanitarian chief Janez Lenarcic welcomed Monday's report for "underlining the agency's significant number of compliance systems in place as well as recommendations for their further upgrade".

He called on donor nations to support UNRWA, describing it as "the Palestinian refugees' lifeline".

This was echoed by Norway's Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, who hailed countries including Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Japan and Sweden for already resuming their funding.

The US, UK, Italy, Netherlands, Austria and Lithuania have not yet done so.

"In terms of our funding of UNRWA, that is still suspended," White House security spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday.

"We're gonna have to see real progress here before that gets changed."

The deputy spokesman of the US State Department, Vedant Patel, said the government was looking closely at the report, adding "we of course continue to support UNRWA's important work, and it must continue".

Israel has accused more than 2,135 of the agency's staff of being members of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad - proscribed terror organisations in Israel, the UK, US and other countries. But the UN's independent review, led by a former French foreign minister, said Israel was yet to provide "supporting evidence" for this claim.

While the report acknowledged UNRWA's "robust framework", it said it needed to do more to improve its neutrality, staff vetting and transparency.

The agency insists it carries out detailed reference checks on all employees, and shares staff lists with Israel.

Israeli authorities suggest the report ignores the severity of the problem, and claim UNRWA has systematic links to Hamas.

The EU's plea came as the US humanitarian envoy to Gaza, David Satterfield, repeated warnings that the risk of famine throughout the Palestinian territory - especially in the north - was very high.

The catastrophic situation has been caused by the siege Israel imposed after the 7 October attacks.

Around 500 trucks of aid were previously entering Gaza each day, but the figure collapsed following the start of the war.

Israel has also been accused of slowing deliveries by subjecting trucks to complex and arbitrary checks, and last month the UN's top court ordered it to enable the unhindered flow of aid into Gaza.

Israel has pledged to gradually increase aid back to pre-war levels, and UNRWA figures show that on Monday 316 trucks entered Gaza, the highest number since the war began.

The average over the previous seven days, however, was 190.

Mr Satterfield said Israel needed to do everything possible to stop a famine and called on more to be done to deliver aid to those in need.

So far, more than 34,000 Palestinians - mostly women and children - have been killed during Israel's military campaign in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

A separate UN investigation is looking at Israeli allegations that 12 UNRWA staff took part in the 7 October attacks on Israel, which saw around 1,200 people killed and about 250 taken hostage.

UNRWA fired 10 of the 12 accused staff members who were still alive in the wake of the allegations.