Feb. 5 (UPI) — Defunding the United Nations’ embattled relief agency for Palestinian refugees is both “disproportionate and dangerous,” according to the European Union’s top diplomat, who warned that its shuttering would not only affect humanitarian assistance in Gaza but threaten regional security.
Josep Borrell, the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy at the EU, made his warning in a blog post on Sunday amid uncertainty over the future of UNRWA, which has seen more than a dozen of its donor nations pause funding after Israel late last month accused a dozen of it employees of having participated in the Oct. 7 attack that killed 1,200 Israelis and kickstarted the nearly four-month-old war.
Borrell said the allegations against UNRWA are “serious and no one responsible should go unpunished” but the organization acted immediately, ending contracts with those accused. He said a U.N. Office of International Oversight Services investigation is already underway and its results are expected before the next payment from the EU is due at the end of the month.
The United States, Austria and several other countries have announced suspensions of future funding for UNRWA, which officials have said amounts to some $440 million, nearly half of the agency’s expected funding in 2024.
“Should UNRWA cease or limit services, which may be the case as early as the end of February, it would significantly aggravate the ongoing dramatic humanitarian crisis,” he said. “The lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, not only in Gaza, are at stake.”
He said UNRWA has been given “a very difficult task” by the United Nations General Assembly to deliver high-quality, low-cost public services in a high-risk environment. Some 13,000 local staff, who are also victims of the ongoing war, play the critical role of water, food and medicine distribution to 1.1 million Gazans facing hunger and disease, he said.
But the organization also aids Palestinian refugees in the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria with services and humanitarian assistance that is put at risk by the suspensions.
“Any reduction in UNRWA services would increase pressure on the West Bank and Israel’s Arab neighbors at a time of deepening socio-economic crisis and an increasingly volatile security situation,” he said.
“UNRWA’s demise would also be a serious risk for regional stability.”
On Sunday, he upped the charge, claiming Israel’s accusations “exposed to the world that UNRWA is collaborating with Hamas.
“This only strengthens what we have known for a long time — that UNRWA is not part of the solution, it is part of the problem,” he said at the start of a government meeting. “The time has come to begin the process of replacing UNRWA with other bodies that are not tainted by support for terrorism.”
Foreign Minister Israel Katz of Israel on X on Sunday also said they were “actively working to disengage” UNRWA from Gaza.