The European Union said on Friday it is “extremely concerned” by allegations that staff of the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees were involved in Hamas’ 7 October attacks on Israel.
The European Commission and foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also called in a joint statement for UNRWA to “provide full transparency on the allegations and to take immediate measures against staff involved.”
UNRWA announced earlier on Friday it was probing the potential involvement of several of its staff members in Hamas’ 7 October attacks, which left more than 1,200 Israelis dead and provoked a war in Gaza that has left claimed the lives of more than 26,000 Palestinians.
According to a statement by the US Department of State, the allegations relate to twelve UNRWA employees.
UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said Friday he had immediately fired the employees suspected of involvement “to protect the agency’s ability to deliver humanitarian assistance,” to the besieged Gaza Strip.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “horrified by this news,” according to his spokesperson.
The US has responded by pausing its funding to UNRWA while investigations take place. The UN agency has played a pivotal role in ensuring life-saving aid reaches the population of Gaza since the outbreak of the war.
The EU executive meanwhile says it will “assess further steps” and “draw lessons” from the results of the investigation.
The EU’s neighbourhood commissioner Olivér Várhelyi and humanitarian aid commissioner Janez Lenarčič echoed the calls for a transparent investigation.
EU payments of development aid to the Palestinian territories were temporarily suspended in response to the 7 October attacks, pending a review to ensure no EU cash inadvertently reached the hands of Hamas, designated a terrorist organisation by the bloc.
Contracts in the value of €331 million were screened, with no diversion of funds to terrorist groups found, allowing development aid to flow again.
The EU is the biggest donor of development aid to the Palestinian territories, with a significant portion of aid channelled through UNRWA, to support vulnerable and displaced families.
For 2021 to 2023, the EU’s contribution to UNRWA’s programme budget amounted to €281 million.