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War on Gaza: UK awaits Unrwa investigation reports before deciding on funding

Foreign Office says it is trying to resolve issue 'as speedily as we can' as MPs cast doubts on UK position on agency
Displaced Palestinians receive food aid at an Unrwa centre in Rafah, southern Gaza, in January (AFP)

The UK government will decide whether to resume funding to Unrwa after it receives interim reports of two investigations looking into Israeli allegations against the agency.

Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell told MPs on Tuesday that the next British payment to the largest organisation operating in Gaza was not due until April.

Meanwhile, he said, enough funds had come forward to "ensure that adequate supplies are available", and that the UK, the US, Germany, Australia, Italy, Finland, the Netherlands and Switzerland would await the interim reports.

"The view we take is that when we have seen those, we very much hope we will have the reassurance to recommence funding," Mitchell said. "We are very much trying to resolve this matter as speedily as we can."

The decision of the UK and the seven others stands in contrast to the EU, Sweden and Canada, which have proceeded with or resumed funding to Unrwa this month.

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When it announced its resumption last Friday, Canada said it had reviewed the interim report of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), one of the two investigations now under way.

When Middle East Eye contacted the UK government on Tuesday it would not say whether, like Canada, it had received the UN's interim report.

MPs criticise UK stance

Meanwhile, MPs are casting doubts on the UK's position.

"For us to continue not to fund Unrwa sends a truly dreadful signal to other countries on the world stage," said Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael in parliament.

"Canada and Sweden have resumed their funding. Surely, we should be attending to this now as a matter of some urgency?"

Scottish National Party MP Alyn Smith asked what further reassurance the UK needed to ensure the funding would be in place.

War on Gaza: UK plan in place to resume Unrwa funding after 'hasty' suspension
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"The UK risks being very much on the wrong side of these developments," he said.

In a letter sent to Foreign Secretary David Cameron late on Tuesday, and seen by MEE, Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams questioned the government's decision-making on Unrwa.

"I am struggling to understand how the UK government can, on the one hand, claim that our contribution to the humanitarian response is not impacted by the decision to pause future funding to Unrwa, while on the other, fail to recognise that this organisation above any other is essential to the delivery of aid to the Palestinian population in Gaza," he wrote. 

Williams asked Cameron to clarify whether the UK had received the UN's interim report and also whether it had reviewed correspondence between EU commissioner Oliver Varhelyi and Unrwa head Philippe Lazzarini that prompted the EU's decision to proceed with funding.

Cameron said last week that the allegations against Unrwa were "shocking" and had to be properly investigated, but that if the UK wanted aid delivered, Unrwa was the "only body with a distribution network".

MEE learnt last week from a parliamentary source with direct knowledge of the matter that the British government has a plan in place to resume funding to Unrwa.

A second source who was in a meeting with Cameron in early February said the foreign secretary acknowledged the decision to suspend funding had been "too hasty" and was looking for face-saving measures to reinstate it.

It now appears that a UK decision is several weeks away, with an interim report from the second investigation, led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna, expected at the end of this month.

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