Spacious UNRWA facilities, southern Gaza
Spacious UNRWA facilities, southern GazaFlash 90

The United States announced on Friday it has temporarily paused funding to UNRWA, the UN agency for “Palestinian refugees”, following allegations that 12 of its employees may have been involved in Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel.

"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 spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

Washington’s announcement came after UNRWA commissioner-general Philippe Lazzarini announced that the UN agency has launched an investigation into the employees who were allegedly involved in the October 7 attacks, adding it has 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,” Lazzarini said.

“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,” he added, stressing that “any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror” would be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “horrified by this news”, his spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said.

The spokesman added that Guterres had asked Lazzarini to conduct a probe to ensure any UNRWA employee guilty of abetting the October 7 attacks be terminated and referred for potential criminal prosecution.

Created in 1949, UNRWA supplies aid to more than three million of the five million registered “Palestinian refugees” in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and territories assigned to the Palestinian Authority.

However, it is also notorious for its anti-Israel activities. During the 2014 counterterrorism Operation Protective Edge, Hamas rockets were discovered inside a school building run by UNRWA.

Likewise, a booby-trapped UNRWA clinic was detonated, killing three IDF soldiers. Aside from the massive amounts of explosives hidden in the walls of the clinic, it was revealed that it stood on top of dozens of terror tunnels, showing how UNRWA is closely embedded with Hamas.

During the current war against Hamas, it was discovered that a hostage kidnapped by Hamas to Gaza was held for 50 days in the attic of an UNRWA teacher.

In late December, a resident of the Gaza Strip told the IDF that Hamas directly controls UNRWA, saying that “the situation is terrible because the humanitarian people, those responsible for the humanitarian aid, are thieves.”

Under the Trump administration, the US cut a full $300 million in funding to the agency in 2018. The Biden administration, however, changed the policy and announced it intends to resume aid to UNRWA.

Last year, the US increased its financial support for UNRWA, reaching a record $223 million, an increase of $16 million on the previous year.

Asked earlier this month whether the US should rethink its support for UNRWA, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby defended the work of the organization.

“UNRWA does important work. In fact, they’re doing a lot of heavy lifting right now in terms of trying to get food, water, medicine to the people of Gaza, all up and down the Strip. They’re doing a lot of work, and they’re doing it in harm’s way — very much so in harm’s way,” said Kirby.

“You can’t hold them accountable for the depredations of Hamas and the way Hamas uses civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, for command and control, for storage of weapons, for the holding of hostages,” he added.

(Israel National News' North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Israel National News articles, however, is Israeli time.)