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New Zealand among 7 more countries to suspend funding to UN agency for Gaza

Seven more nations, including New Zealand, joined the US and UK in suspending funding to the UN’s aid agency in Gaza over allegations that several of its workers participated in the Hamas attack against Israel on 7 October.

New Zealand, France, Austria, The Netherlands, Iceland, Romania and Estonia announced they were halting payments to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in a serious setback to the largest humanitarian organisation working in Gaza serving war-hit Palestinian civilians.

In a statement on Monday, the European Commission said currently no additional funding to the UNRWA is foreseen until the end of February, indirectly suggesting it will not financially aid the UN agency. It said upcoming funding decisions will be determined in the light of the “very serious allegations made on 24 January relating to the involvement of UNRWA staff in the heinous 7 October attacks”.

The EU commission will then review the matter based on the UN investigations and the actions it takes against those held guilty.

This comes two days after the UK said it was immediately halting any aid to the UNRWA as it was “appalled” by the allegations of its employees involvement in the “heinous act of terrorism”.

“The UK is temporarily pausing any future funding of UNRWA whilst we review these concerning allegations,” the foreign office said in a statement on Saturday. “We remain committed to getting humanitarian aid to the people in Gaza who desperately need it.”

The UK was joined by Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Finland in the decision to stop providing life-saving aid amid the continuing humanitarian disaster.

However, Spain announced that it will not be making “any modification” in its relations with the UNRWA, breaking away from its European allies on helping the lone agency spearheading the relief efforts in Gaza strip.

Spanish foreign minister Jose Manuel Albares called the UNRWA an “indispensable” agency in mitigating the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. He added that the employees accused of participating in operation Al-Aqsa Flood are no more than 12 out of 30,000.

About 12 agency employees are thought to be under investigation. UNRWA has 13,000 employees in Gaza, mostly Palestinians.

On Saturday, UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini said he was “shocked” by the decisions taken by Western nations to pull aid funding as “famine looms” for the population of Gaza amid the continuing Israel-Hamas war.

“UNRWA lifesaving assistance is about to end following countries’ decisions to cut their funding to the agency. Our humanitarian operation, on which 2 million people depend as a lifeline in Gaza, is collapsing,” he wrote on X.

The UN official added: “I am shocked such decisions are taken based on alleged behaviour of a few individuals and as the war continues, needs are deepening and famine looms. Palestinians in Gaza did not need this additional collective punishment. This stains all of us.”

This comes a day after Mr Lazzarini said several UN agency employees were fired and are being investigated over allegations that they participated in the 7 October attack by Hamas on Israel.

More than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israel-Hamas war since the first week of October, according to the Gaza health ministry, which does not distinguish between civilian and militant casualties. Nearly 85 per cent of the territory’s 2.3 million people have been displaced.