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US lobbies others for Unrwa funds while cutting own donations 

A US official tried to convince Turkey to provide more funds after Washington froze its donations following Israeli claims that Unwra staff were involved in the 7 October attack
ribution center of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement.  (AFP)
A man carries aid distributed by Unwra in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 3 March (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

The US encouraged Turkey to provide additional donations to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (Unrwa) during high-level diplomatic talks earlier this year, despite pausing its funding to the organisation. 

US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told Turkish officials in late January that even though Washington had decided to freeze its funding to Unrwa, Ankara and Gulf nations should fill the gap, Turkish sources familiar with the talks told Middle East Eye. 

Nine countries led by the US froze their funding to Unwra in January amid unproven allegations that some of its workers had participated in the 7 October attack on Israel.

The US alone provides just over $345m to the agency, which pays for humanitarian aid to the 2.3 million people in Gaza, as well as millions of others in the Palestinian territories. 

Unrwa is facing allegations that 12 of its 13,000 staff in Gaza were involved in the attacks against Israel. 

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draft bill in the US Congress is currently trying to permanently ban US funding to the agency.

Even though Turkey had previously provided an additional $1m to the agency before the US funding cut, it has not subsequently provided more funds to fill the gap. Turkey normally contributes $10m annually to Unrwa. 

Gulf countries have also not increased their contribution.

Plugging the shortfall

Countries like Spain and Portugal have increased their contributions to the agency by a few million euros to help make up for the shortfall. 

MEE reached out to both the US Embassy in Ankara and the State Department for comment, but no response was offered by the time of publication. 

One Turkish official said Ankara would prefer to focus on more effective humanitarian aid - including food to Unrwa - instead of increasing the monetary donations. 

Countries froze Unrwa funds without seeing evidence of Israeli claims
Read More »

Egypt, Qatar, and the United States have been pushing for a ceasefire to end the five-month-old war on Gaza, with the latest proposals calling for a six-week halt to fighting and a prisoner swap.

Chris Gunness, a former chief spokesperson for Unrwa, said that any Ramadan ceasefire has to include expanded Unrwa operations, as half a million people in Gaza are starving. 

"The only organisation that is capable of delivering aid to over two million people is Unrwa," he said.

“Unrwa has 13,000 staff. It has trucks, it has warehouses, it has food distribution centres. Funding that fills the $500m [gap] has to be met immediately.” 

He further described the current pause on funding to the agency as a “slow-motion massacre".

Gunness said the Biden administration is under “disgraceful” pressure by both wings of the US Congress to permanently ban funding to Unrwa, which has forced Washington to search for funds through its allies. 

In another development, the European Commission on Friday announced that it would unfreeze its aid to Unrwa and increase its funding by an additional 68m euros ($73.8m), bringing its total aid to Unrwa for 2024 to 15om euros ($162.8m). 

The commission said the first 50m euros of aid would be delivered this week and the remainder will come in installments as Unrwa conducts reviews into its staff to determine whether they participated in the attacks or not. 

“Unwra has agreed to the launch of an audit of the agency to be conducted by EU-appointed external experts,” the statement said. “This audit will review the control systems to prevent the possible involvement of its staff and assets in terrorist activities.”

Gunness said that the EU decision was a testament to the fact that Israeli allegations against the agency’s staff members were likely unproven. 

"It is a sign that the Europeans have full confidence in Unwra’s neutrality, and they have decided to resume funding," he said.

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