Josep Borrell
Josep BorrellReuters

The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Sunday that cutting funds to UNRWA would put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk and could be considered collective punishment, Reuters reported.

"Defunding UNRWA would be both disproportionate and dangerous," Borrell wrote in a blog post.

"The wrongdoing of individuals should never lead to the collective punishment of an entire population," he added.

The US announced last week it has temporarily paused funding to UNRWA following allegations that 12 of its employees may have been involved in Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel.

It was followed by more than a dozen other countries, including Australia, as well as Germany, Britain and New Zealand.

Borrell said on Sunday neither the European Commission, nor the EU's two biggest economies, Germany or France, had decided to end their contributions. Funds paused by other donors amount to more than $440 million, nearly half of the agency's expected income this year, he said.

"The lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, not only in Gaza, are at stake," Borrell wrote, adding, "I am confident that the UN will take all the necessary measures following the Israeli allegations, and that UNRWA will continue to be a vital lifeline for millions of Palestinian people."

Last week, an array of UN organizations warned of "catastrophic consequences for the people of Gaza " if key donor countries do not resume funding for UNRWA.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the United Nations, said a day earlier that UNRWA plays "a critical role in providing life-saving assistance to Palestinians," but also stressed that "we need to see fundamental changes before we can resume providing funding directly" to the organization.

The New York Times last week published details on the accusations that Israel has levelled at workers of UNRWA.

According to the report, one of the UNRWA workers is accused of kidnapping a woman, another is said to have handed out ammunition and a third was described as taking part in the massacre at Kibbutz Be’eri, where 97 people were murdered.

The accusations are contained in a dossier provided to the United States government that details Israel’s claims against a dozen employees of UNRWA.

The agency has opened an investigation into several employees and has severed ties with those people, it has said.