EU holds back part of UNRWA payment but boosts Palestinian aid

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The European Commission said on Friday it would hold back part of a payment of 82 million euros for the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) but increase overall aid to the Palestinians by 68 million euros this year.

UNRWA provides aid and basic services to Palestinians caught up in the war in Gaza, but was thrown into crisis after Israel alleged in January that 12 of the agency’s 13,000 staff in the enclave were involved in the Hamas attack of October 7 last year.

Like many of the agency’s other big donors, the European Union’s executive body reviewed its funding of UNRWA after Israel made the allegations.

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The Commission said in a statement on Friday it would now pay out a first tranche of 50 million euros of the 82 million originally due around the end of February.

It said it would pay two further tranches of 16 million euros as UNRWA addresses concerns raised by the Israeli accusations.

UNRWA dismissed all the accused staff following the allegations. But many major donors, including the United States, Britain and several European Union countries, suspended payments to the agency or said they would not approve new funding until the matter was resolved.

The agency said a total of $450 million in funding was at risk and warned its operations across the Middle East would be “severely compromised” from March.

The European Commission is one of the biggest donors to UNRWA and the agency’s boss, Philippe Lazzarini, said last month that the 82 million euro payment from Brussels due around the end of February was “absolutely critical.”

Lazzarini said on Friday that disbursing 50 million euros imminently will support UNWRA delivering “lifesaving and essential services” to Palestinian refugees. He said the agency was cooperating with an ongoing external review of its work.

“The full disbursement of the EU contribution is key to the agency’s ability to maintain its operations in a very volatile area,” he said.

Aid to Palestinians

The total of 82 million euros from the EU executive is an “operational grant” meant to cover UNWRA operations including staff salaries this year, officials said.

In its statement, the Commission said it would allocate an additional 68 million euros “to support the Palestinian population across the region to be implemented through international partners like the Red Cross and the Red Crescent.”

“We stand by the Palestinian people in Gaza and elsewhere in the region. Innocent Palestinians should not have to pay the price for the crimes of terrorist group Hamas,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

“They face terrible conditions putting their lives at risk because of lack of access to sufficient food and other basic needs. That is why we are reinforcing our support to them this year by a further 68 million euros.”

On top of the operational grant, the EU executive has also assigned up to 125 million euros this year for specific humanitarian aid projects for Palestinians. On Friday, it confirmed contracting the first 16 millions euros of that.

As well as dismissing the accused staff, the United Nations is investigating the allegations and also commissioned a review of UNRWA’s adherence to neutrality.

In a statement on January 29, the European Commission set out three conditions it expected UNRWA to meet before any further transfer of aid from Brussels.

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It said it expected an audit into how the agency prevents the involvement of staff in terrorist activities, a strengthening of its internal investigation unit and a review to confirm that no staff took part in the October 7 attacks.

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