Australia to unfreeze UNRWA funding as Israel attacks Gaza aid seekers

Australia to restore $6m in funding to embattled UN agency for Palestinian refugees and pledges additional Gaza aid.

Gaza
Palestinian children get food from a makeshift tent set up in Rafah near Gaza's border with Egypt [Jehad Alshrafi/Anadolu Agency]

Australia says it will restore funding to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees weeks after it lost millions of dollars in international support following allegations by Israel that some of its staff in the Gaza Strip were involved in the October 7 Hamas-led attacks.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on Friday that the country was “unpausing” funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), refuting Israel’s accusations that 450 members of the agency’s staff had participated in the attacks in southern Israel that sparked the current war.

“The best available current advice from agencies and the Australian government lawyers is that UNRWA is not a terrorist organisation,” Wong told reporters in Adelaide while she announced a new aid package.

As well as reinstating $6m in stalled funding for UNRWA, Australia has pledged an additional $2.6m to UNICEF, the UN’s agency for children, to provide urgent services in Gaza.

It will also deploy a C-17 Globemaster plane to deliver defence force parachutes to help with the airdropping of humanitarian supplies to the enclave’s starving population. The deliveries have been criticised as inefficient and costly, and humanitarian groups have called on Israel to stop blocking aid deliveries by land.

Friday’s decision to reinstate funding follows similar moves by Canada, Sweden and the European Union to resume support for the agency, which had seen about 15 countries freeze funding while the Israeli allegations were investigated. The freeze slashed UNRWA’s funds by an estimated $450m and left it on the brink of collapse.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini thanked Australia for becoming the latest country to restore funding to the agency, which employs roughly 13,000 people in Gaza and is the main supplier of food, water and shelter there.

“Your support is testament to your commitment to humanitarian principles & the plight of #PalestineRefugees during unprecedented crisis,” he wrote in a post on X.

“I hope that other donors who have temporarily paused their contribution will make similar announcement & support the Agency to reverse the widespread hunger in #Gaza & to remain a life line for Palestine Refugees across the region.”

Israeli forces have attacked thousands of Palestinians waiting for food and other humanitarian supplies in Gaza. At least 21 people were killed in the latest attack on Thursday at Gaza City’s Kuwait Roundabout, a central hub for the arrival of aid trucks.

At least five people were killed on Wednesday in an Israeli air strike on an UNRWA-run aid distribution centre and warehouse in Rafah in southern Gaza, where more than half of the enclave’s population of 2.3 million people have been displaced.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies