U.S. halts UNRWA funding over staffers’ involvement with Oct. 7 terror attacks

The decision comes after the U.N. agency terminated 12 employees

Rafah Police

Armed men sit atop a U.N. aid truck outside a U.N. logistics facility in the Gaza Strip

The United States on Friday suspended funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the humanitarian body that works with Palestinians, in light of allegations that 12 UNRWA employees were involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks in Israel.

The announcement from the U.S. State Department came after UNRWA announced that it had terminated several employees in light of new information that Israel provided to the agency detailing the connections of those UNRWA employees to the attacks.

“Any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution,” Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA commissioner-general, said in a Friday press release

The Biden administration, a strong supporter of UNRWA, said on Friday it is taking the allegations seriously. 

“The United States is extremely troubled by the allegations that twelve UNRWA employees may have been involved in the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement. “The Department of State has temporarily paused additional funding for UNRWA while we review these allegations and the steps the United Nations is taking to address them.”

Secretary of State Tony Blinken addressed the allegations on Thursday with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Miller said. The State Department briefed members of Congress on the matter and reached out to Israel to learn more about the allegations.

“UNRWA plays a critical role in providing lifesaving assistance to Palestinians, including essential food, medicine, shelter, and other vital humanitarian support,” said Miller. “Their work has saved lives, and it is important that UNRWA address these allegations and take any appropriate corrective measures, including reviewing its existing policies and procedures.”

The news also raised alarms among some members of Congress. Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL) on Friday argued that the U.S. should cease its funding to UNRWA until further notice.

“This rot is deep and the U.S. should immediately pause all funding to UNRWA until an independent investigation is carried out,” Waltz wrote on X.

An Israeli journalist reported in December that one of the Israeli hostages had said they had been held captive by a teacher working for UNRWA. At the time, the agency called on journalists and observers to stop making “unsubstantiated claims,” warning that they “may amount to misinformation.”

Biden administration officials had until today praised the agency’s humanitarian work in Gaza since the war broke out following the Hamas attacks.

“UNRWA has done and continues to do invaluable work to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza at great personal risk to UNRWA members,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said last week. When asked about reports that some UNRWA staff members had celebrated the attacks, Miller said the U.S. looks into individual incidents but overall remains supportive of the agency’s work.

“Whenever we see reports of that nature, we ask specific questions about UNRWA and ask that they be followed up,” Miller said. “It does not change the lifesaving work that UNRWA is doing every day in Gaza.”

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is slated to hold a hearing on Tuesday about UNRWA’s ties to Hamas and the Oct. 7 attacks.

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