Australia to pause funding to UNWRA over allegations

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said it had sacked “several” employees accused by Israel of involvement in the October 7 attacks.

Australia's foreign minister Penny Wong. Photo: Peter Haskin
Australia's foreign minister Penny Wong. Photo: Peter Haskin

Foreign minister Penny Wong has announced Australia has joined the United States in pausing its funding to UNWRA over allegations of staff involvement in Hamas’s October 7 attacks.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said it had sacked “several” employees accused by Israel of involvement in the atrocities.

“Australia is deeply concerned by allegations UNRWA staff may have been involved in the abhorrent October 7 terror attacks,” Wong said in a statement.

“We welcome UNWRA’s immediate response, including terminating contracts and launching an investigation, as well as its recent announcement of a full investigation into allegations against the organisation.

“Australia will engage closely with UNRWA on investigations and is consulting with international partners. While we do this, we will temporarily pause disbursement of recently announced funding.”

Palestinians return to Gaza City driving an Israeli Humvee that was seized after terrorists entered Israel by land on October 7, 2023. (MAJDI FATHI / AFP)

Co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australia Jewry (ECAJ) Alex Ryvchin welcomed the Australian government’s decision, adding he hopes the suspension of funding “is made permanent in time”.

“Extreme care must be taken to ensure that Australia aid spending never goes to malevolent actors like UNRWA ever again.”

ZFA President Jeremy Leibler said, “we are calling on the Australian Government to desist from resuming funding until UNRWA removes all glorification of terrorism from its school text books, fires all teachers that have praised terrorism, and commits to a transparent, third-party audit of all its finances.

“All those who want a peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians must hold UNRWA accountable.”

ZFA CEO Alon Cassuto said, “We learned within days of the 7 October massacre that at least one of the Hamas attackers had UNRWA identity papers discovered on his body. What surprises us is the length of time it took for the UN to admit this.

“UNRWA has been an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace for decades.”

Josh Burns MP said the pause in funding is the right decision, “as we must have absolute confidence taxpayer dollars are going to those in need and not those spreading terror”.

“The tragic aspect of UNWRA is that they do important work providing support to Palestinian people in need,” Burns said.

“But it is clear that they still have an unacceptable situation of antisemitism and support for terror within its organisation.”

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said the decision to place a number of employees under investigation and severe ties with them was taken “to protect the agency’s ability to deliver humanitarian assistance”.

“Any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution,” he said.

Israeli authorities had provided information about the staff members’ alleged involvement, he said.

A senior Israeli official told the Axios news site that the Shin Bet and the IDF provided information that pointed to the active participation of UNRWA staffers along with the use of the agency’s vehicles and facilities in the October 7 terror onslaught.

“This was strong and corroborated intelligence,” the official told Axios. “A lot of the intelligence is a result of interrogations of militants who were arrested during the October 7 attack.”

UN chief Antonio Guterres “is horrified” by the accusations and an “urgent and comprehensive independent review of UNRWA will be conducted,” said his spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

The US State Department said it was “extremely troubled” by the allegations and had “temporarily paused additional funding” while it reviewed the claims and the UN’s plan to address concerns.

While the UNRWA statement did not specify how many staffers it had fired, the US statement revealed that 12 employees “may have been involved.”

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