UN takes 'swift action' against relief staff tied to October 7 attacks, Guterres says

UN chief Antonio Guterres also warns of imminent funding collapse for aid work in Gaza

Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the UN headquarters in New York on January 26, 2024. AFP
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Sunday said “swift action” had been taken against a group of Palestine relief agency workers after they were accused of involvement in the October 7 Hamas attack against Israel.

Mr Guterres also warned that the UN Relief and Works Agency is about to run out of money for its work in Gaza after the US and other countries cut funding following the allegations.

“The UN is taking swift action ... Of the 12 people implicated, nine were immediately identified and terminated by the Commissioner General of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini; one is confirmed dead, and the identity of the two others is being clarified,” Mr Guterres said in a statement.

“Any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution”

The US, the largest donor to the UN Relief and Works Agency, said it was halting further funding after the agency announced on Friday that several of its employees had allegedly taken part in the deadly attacks on Israel that sparked the war. Several other major donors on Saturday followed suit, including Canada, the UK, Italy and Australia.

Two million civilians in Gaza depend on UNRWA aid for daily survival, Mr Guterres added, but warned that the agency's current funding will not allow it to meet all requirements to support them in February.

“While I understand their concerns – I was myself horrified by these accusations – I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations,” he said.

Mr Lazzarini on Saturday pleaded to the countries that have suspended funding to reconsider their decisions.

“It is shocking to see a suspension of funds to the agency in reaction to allegations against a small group of staff, especially given the immediate action that UNRWA took by terminating their contracts and asking for a transparent independent investigation,” he said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called on Mr Lazzarini to quit.

“Mr Lazzarini please resign,” Mr Katz said on X in response to a post by the UNRWA chief warning that funding cuts meant the agency's operation in Gaza was about to collapse.

UNRWA faced funding challenges even before the Gaza war, with financial strains worsening when former US president Donald Trump cut funding in 2018.

However, the Biden administration reinstated full support in 2022 with a $344 million contribution, making the US its top donor.

Updated: January 28, 2024, 5:15 AM