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UN agency's employees allegedly participated in attack on Israel, State Dept pauses funding

UNRWA is the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, but has come under scrutiny in the past for anti-Israel and anti-Jewish biases.

Published: January 26, 2024 11:28am

The United Nations agency responsible for humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees has terminated the contracts of "several" of its employees after Israel shared evidence that they participated in the October 7 terrorist attacks.

The commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East announced Friday that tUNRWA was suspending the alleged participants and launching an investigation. 

"Any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution," Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, said. "UNRWA reiterates its condemnation in the strongest possible terms of the abhorrent attacks of 7 October and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all Israeli hostages and their safe return to their families." 

After the announcement, the State Department said that it would temporarily pause all additional funding to the agency while it investigates and called on the United Nations to probe UNRWA, according to a statement.

"Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on January 25 to emphasize the necessity of a thorough and swift investigation of this matter," the statement reads. "We welcome the decision to conduct such an investigation and Secretary General Guterres’ pledge to take decisive action to respond, should the allegations prove accurate." 

UNRWA has been criticized in the past over anti-Israel and anti-semitic material contained in its educational materials, which are distributed in many Palestinian schools.

In 2021, the German newspaper BILD reported on incidents of anti-Israel and -Jewish content from UNRWA educators--including praise of Hitler--and in educational materials--including an in-class exercise that labeled a Jewish bus attacked by Palestinian arsonists a "barbecue." 

An internal UN audit of the organization also found that it was susceptible to "misappropriation, graft and corruption."

In 2018, the Trump administration ended funding for UNRWA over these and other concerns . President Biden resumed funding shortly after taking office and has sent nearly $730 million to UNRWA