Austria suspends funding to UN Palestinian Agency over alleged involvement in Hamas attack

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Austria has announced the suspension of payments to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) pending a full investigation into allegations of employee involvement in the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. The Austrian Foreign Ministry made this announcement on Monday, joining several other countries in pausing funding to the agency.

Austria, which donated around $8 million to UNRWA in 2022, is the 22nd largest funder of the agency for Palestinian refugees. The ministry emphasized the need for a comprehensive, swift, and complete investigation into the accusations and called on both UNRWA and the United Nations to conduct such an inquiry.

The decision to suspend funding comes after UNRWA stated on Friday that it had terminated several employees over the allegations. The October 7 attack saw thousands of terrorists crossing into Israel, resulting in the deaths of approximately 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The attackers also took 253 hostages to Gaza, where many remain.

The New York Times recently published a report detailing some of the accusations made by Israel, which include claims that UNRWA employees kidnapped Israelis, transported ammunition and the body of a dead soldier, and participated in a deadly assault on a kibbutz. UNRWA provides essential services such as education and healthcare in 10 Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, the only Arab country where Palestinians have been granted citizenship.

The agency operates in a total of 58 designated refugee camps across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Despite the accusations, UNRWA’s supporters argue that the allegations are an attempt to undermine the refugee issue. UNRWA’s Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini has pledged to appoint an independent entity to investigate the claims and address any politically motivated aspects.

While Israel has criticized UNRWA in the past, it also continues to cooperate with the agency, reflecting a divided stance within the Israeli government. Foreign Minister Israel Katz has called for UNRWA to be replaced with agencies focused on peace and development, while the country has also been reported to directly supply goods to UNRWA in Gaza.

The timing of UNRWA’s announcement of the investigation has raised questions, with some speculating that it was due to be publicly exposed in an upcoming US congressional hearing. Despite the controversy, UNRWA’s operations remain crucial in providing support to Palestinian refugees in the region.

(Source: Times of Israel | VOA | UPI)

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