Downing Street under mounting pressure to restore funding to UNRWA

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Downing Street under mounting pressure to restore funding to UNRWA

Spokesperson for Rishi Sunak tells Jewish News the PM is 'carefully considering' a report delivered at the weekend aimed at improving the transparency of UNRWA

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Palestinians in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 12, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinians in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 12, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Downing Street is under mounting pressure to restore funding to the UN Palestinian relief agency UNRWA despite claims made by Israel of links to Hamas and the October 7th attacks.

A spokesperson for Rishi Sunak told Jewish News on Wednesday that the government was “continuing to carefully consider the findings” of a report published at the weekend by the former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna.

Israel has accused more than 2,135 of the agency’s staff of being members of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad – proscribed terror organisations in Israel, the UK, US and other countries.

But the Colonna report, which looked at ways of making UNRWA more “transparent and accountable”, has suggested Israel was yet to provide “supporting evidence” for its claim of mass links to Hamas.

Jewish News understands that No.10 is now “likely” to reluctantly accept the view that there is no other organisation currently operating in Gaza that can distribute aid effectively and quickly.

Some pro-Israel Tory MPs continue to argue that such a decision would amount to “moral bankruptcy” because of what they say are clear links between UNRWA workers and Hamas, including support for the October 7th attacks.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attending Finchley United Synagogue in central London, for victims and hostages of Hamas attacks

But there have been equally strong representations made to Downing Street urging them to recognise the devastating humanitarian situation in Gaza, including a looming famine is more aid does not arrive.

But Richard Pater of the Jerusalem-based Bicom think tank, admits:“Because of the necessity of humanitarian aid in Gaza, UNRWA is needed as there may be no immediate replacement.

“As faulty and problematic as UNRWA is, you can’t have a vacuum in Gaza, so until an adequate body is there to replace them, renewing aid might be the calculation of a British government.”

The UK was one of 18 countries that in January halted financing for the UN Relief and Works Agency after Israel alleged 12 of its 30,000 staff had taken part in the Hamas-led attacks on October 7.

Britain had made all its planned contributions of £35 million ($43.1 million) to UNRWA for the last financial year up until April and the government said it would resume funding only after reforms proposed by a UN inquiry have been made.

Since then, the EU and nine countries, including Germany this week, have restored funding.

Britain’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is also believed to be in favour of ending the pause.

Richard Pater, BICOM

But some Tory MPs argue it would be a form of “moral bankruptcy” to resume funding, and have written to foreign secretary Lord Cameron.

Ex- home secretary Suella Braverman claimed: “Unwra has been categorically discredited. Hamas has taken over elements of Unrwa and used them for terrorist attacks. For the UK government to divert British taxpayers’ money to fund Unrwa’s activities would be a disgrace. This must not happen.”

EU humanitarian chief Janez Lenarcic has called on donor nations to support UNRWA, describing it as “the Palestinian refugees’ lifeline” .

Norway’s foreign minister Espen Barth Eide, has hailed countries including Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Japan and Sweden for already resuming their funding.

The US, UK, Italy, Netherlands, Austria and Lithuania have not yet done so.

“In terms of our funding of UNRWA, that is still suspended,” White House security spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday.

“We’re gonna have to see real progress here before that gets changed.”

A FCDO spokesperson added:“Allegations that UNRWA staff were involved in the events that took place on 7 October in Israel are appalling, which is why we took decisive action to pause future funding to the organisation.

“The Prime Minister has been clear that the UK will set out its position on future funding to UNRWA following careful consideration of Catherine Colonna’s final report, UNRWA’s response and the ongoing UN Office for Internal Oversight Services investigation into these allegations.”

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