Monday, March 4, 2024

9 UNRWA staff members fired over allegations: UN chief

Of the 12 staff members of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) allegedly involved in the October 7 Hamas attack in Israel, nine have been fired, one was killed and the identities of two others are "being clarified", UN Secretary-General António Guterres has stated.

“The United Nations is taking swift action following the extremely serious allegations against several UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) staff members,” Guterres said Sunday, adding the UN’s oversight body has already launched an investigation and an independent review is forthcoming.

“Any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.”

The secretary-general urged countries, however, to continue financial assistance to the UNRWA that supports 2 million Gazans who depend on the “critical aid” for “daily survival”, warning the agency’s current funding “will not allow it to meet all requirements to support them in February”.

In the wake of the allegations against the UNRWA, nine countries have so far paused funding for the main UN agency in Gaza.

“While I understand their concerns – I was myself horrified by these accusations – I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations,” Guterres said.

“The abhorrent alleged acts of these staff members must have consequences. But the tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA, many in some of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be penalized. The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met,” he added.

The head of the UNRWA has also said the decision to suspend aid to the UN Palestinian refugee agency by several Western countries is a “collective punishment”.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said he was shocked such decisions were taken as “famine looms” in Gaza, which has been devastated by nearly four months of relentless Israeli bombardment that has killed almost 26,500 people.

The agency, with its 13,000 employees in Gaza, is the main organisation aiding Gaza’s population amid the humanitarian disaster. More than two million of the besieged enclave’s 2.3 million people depend on the UNRWA for “sheer survival”, including food and shelter, Lazzarini added, warning this lifeline can “collapse any time now”.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, took Guterres to task over his call for nations to restore their funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

Erdan said in a post on X the United Nations ignored evidence over UNRWA’s alleged involvement with Hamas, asserting Guterres “called to fund an organisation that is deeply contaminated with terrorism”.

The Israeli envoy called on all UNRWA donors to suspend funding as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza grows worse by the day for the 2.3 million people caught up in the war.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz earlier called on Lazzarini to quit saying the UN body “must be replaced with agencies dedicated to genuine peace and development”.

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