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UNRWA chief says $267m in aid for Palestinians still suspended

Geneva – The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said on Tuesday that $267 million in its funding was still suspended over allegations some UNRWA staff participated in the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

The accusations in January led to many donors freezing some $450 million in funding at a time when Gaza’s 2.3 million people are in dire need of food, water, shelter and medicine.

Many countries have since resumed their donations, while others have not — including the United States, which passed a law blocking funding until at least March 2025.

“It’s money we were aware which was committed and which remains suspended for the agency. The total amount is $267 million. The bulk of it comes from the United States,” UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini told a press conference in Geneva.

He said that up to 16 countries had suspended contributions to UNRWA following the allegations in January but as of Tuesday, “most of the donor countries have resumed their contribution to the agency.

“We just have a handful of countries that still need to make a decision,” he said, citing Britain and Austria among them.

Switzerland is due to take a decision on whether to resume support on Wednesday.

Lazzarini said countries which had never donated to UNRWA before were now coming forward with contributions, including Algeria.

Over the last six months, more than $115 million had also been raised in private donations, “which is an indication of the extraordinary grassroots solidarity expressed towards Palestinians and also to the agency”, he added.

He said the agency had the money to keep running until the end of June, but noted that during his tenure since 2020, the agency had rarely been able to look more than two to three months ahead financially.

– Rafah ‘anxiety’ –

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that the Israeli military will launch a ground offensive in Rafah “with or without” a truce with Hamas in Gaza.

Lazzarini said there was deep anxiety in the Gaza Strip over the fear of a ground invasion in the far-southern city, which is packed with displaced civilians.

“People have not yet been asked to evacuate from Rafah,” he added. “My colleagues on the ground are also describing a constant state of trauma among the people.”

The war started after Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,535 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

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