Biden Admin Reverses Funding of UNRWA After 12 Employees Accused of Participation in Oct. 7

Palestinian Hamas militants (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
January 26, 2024

The Biden administration on Friday paused U.S. funding to the controversial United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) following allegations that employees of the agency were involved in Hamas's Oct. 7 massacre.

"The Department of State has temporarily paused additional funding for UNRWA while we review these allegations and the steps the United Nations is taking to address them," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

The announcement came after UNRWA on Friday said it opened an investigation into several employees suspected of involvement in the Oct. 7 attacks against Israel and that it had severed ties with those staff members.

"The Israeli authorities have provided UNRWA with information about the alleged involvement of several UNRWA employees in the horrific attacks on Israel on October 7," said Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA commissioner-general.

"To protect the agency's ability to deliver humanitarian assistance, I have taken the decision to immediately terminate the contracts of these staff members and launch an investigation in order to establish the truth without delay."

Lazzarini did not disclose the number of employees allegedly involved in the attacks, nor the nature of their alleged involvement. He said, however, that "any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror" would be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.

A spokesperson for UNRWA would not provide further detail on the situation.

Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, has been briefed about the allegations, his spokesperson said.

"The Secretary-General is horrified by this news," said spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric.

Dujarric added that the U.N. chief had asked Lazzarini to conduct a probe to ensure that any UNRWA employee shown to have participated or abetted the Oct. 7 attacks be terminated immediately and referred for potential criminal prosecution.

"An urgent and comprehensive independent review of UNRWA will be conducted," Dujarric added.

The Biden administration in 2021 restored funding to the UNRWA after it was cut off during the Trump administration, which called the agency "irredeemably flawed." The Biden administration has funneled more than $730 million to the UNRWA since restoring funding, the New York Post reported in October.

UNRWA, established in 1949 following the first Arab-Israeli war, provides services including schooling, primary health care, and humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.

The agency has for years faced accusations that its employees have promoted radicalism and aided terrorist groups in Gaza and the West Bank.

Teachers and other staff members for UNRWA celebrated the Oct. 7 massacre, which killed roughly 1,200 Israelis, and one UNRWA teacher reportedly held an Israeli hostage captive in an attic.

The State Department in 2022 found that UNRWA facilities have been used to store terrorist weaponry. Textbooks and education materials used in the UNRWA's schools have also routinely been found to promote anti-Semitism and calls for Israel's destruction.

UNRWA, whose biggest donors in 2022 included the United States, Germany, and the European Union, has repeatedly said its capacity to render humanitarian assistance to people in Gaza is on the verge of collapse.

The diplomatic missions of the United States, Germany, and the European Union in Geneva had no immediate comment.

Published under: Hamas , Israel , UNRWA