Britain has said future funding for a UN relief agency hinges on the outcome of inquires into allegations that staff took part in the October 7 attack on Israel.
Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is “critical” to delivering humanitarian aid into Gaza and the region, but added the UK is “appalled” by the allegations of agency staff being involved in the atrocities.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Mitchell told MPs: “The action that UNRWA needs to take is pretty clear – they need to make sure that nothing like this can ever happen again, but I want to emphasise that we are not cutting humanitarian supplies to UNRWA at this time.
“We have paid up the money that is required for UNRWA to continue, there is nothing planned until April – there wasn’t before these terrible events – but we will review future funding in the light of the inquiry, which the secretary-general will be receiving as swiftly as possible.”
Mr Mitchell later said the UK will “wait and see” for the result of the inquiries, adding: “We will make our plans accordingly.”
The UK joined the US, Australia, Italy and other countries in pausing funding for UNRWA after it sacked a number of its staff who were accused of taking part in the October 7 attack.
The funding pause has sparked concerns about the impact the decision will have on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza as the Israeli bombardment continues.
But Conservative MP Bob Blackman (Harrow East) asked how many UNRWA employees are “directly linked to terrorist organisations”, saying: “What confidence can we have that the aid we’re providing actually gets to the people that need it rather than being diverted by the terrorists that exist in Gaza?”
Mr Mitchell said: “He refers to the 12 people who have been identified out of a workforce of 13,000. I can tell him that the head of UNRWA told me this morning that of the 12, two are dead and one is mismatched so we’re talking here about nine people.
“But nevertheless he makes the right point about the fact that this is completely intolerable.”
Greg Smith, Conservative MP for Buckingham, welcomed the pause to UNRWA funding before claiming the “scale of the problem is much more significant than a handful of people”.
Conservative former minister Richard Fuller described the allegations as “appalling” but said UNRWA “remains a vital source of food and support” for Palestinians, as he said some colleagues appear to want to “throttle” the organisation’s long-term funding.
Juliette Touma, director of communications at UNRWA, earlier said a continued suspension of funding for the agency would have “very, very serious repercussions”.
“We are extremely desperate. It has come at a time when the humanitarian needs in Gaza are growing by the hour,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Downing Street said £16 million has been given to the agency since the Hamas incursion into Israel in October, which sparked the current conflict.
But a spokesman for the Prime Minister said no further funding is expected to be released to the agency in the coming weeks.
“There is a pause in place and we are conducting an investigation,” he said.
“Obviously we are in contact with our Israeli counterparts and UNRWA as well.
“My understanding is that we have committed £16 million to UNRWA following the Hamas terror attacks, but this was dispersed before the allegations came to light.
“I’m not aware of any remaining UNRWA funding that hasn’t been used. In the meantime, we’re working with a number of other partner organisations – so Unicef, the Red Cross and others – to deliver our uplift of aid into Gaza.”
He said the UK will not “be providing any additional funding while this work continues”.
Downing Street downplayed concerns that aid funding could have gone to Hamas, with the spokesman saying such a question is not “a live issue or something that we think has happened”.
The row over funding for UNRWA comes amid rising tension in the Middle East after a drone attack on Sunday killed three US troops and injured dozens more in north-eastern Jordan, near the Syrian border.
Elsewhere in the Commons, Mr Mitchell said of the Israel-Hamas conflict: “We need to generate momentum now towards a permanent peace and that is why pushing for a pause now is so important and that is why we need a contact group meeting, bringing together the key players as soon as possible.”
Several opposition MPs pressed the UK Government to suspend arms sales to Israel following an interim ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The ICJ stopped short of ordering a ceasefire in Gaza in a genocide case filed by South Africa, but it demanded that Israel tries to contain death and damage in its military offensive.
Labour MP Imran Hussain (Bradford East) said: “Now that the ICJ’s interim ruling agrees it is legally plausible under international law that a genocide is being committed in Gaza, possibly using arms sold by the UK, will the Government immediately suspend the sale of arms to the Israeli military?”
Mr Mitchell replied: “His interpretation of what the ICJ is saying is not the Government’s interpretation or indeed many members of the House.”
He added: “The throwing across the chamber of accusations of genocide in respect of Israel’s activity in Gaza are extraordinarily offensive and, in my view, totally wrong.”
Mr Mitchell later said the UK keeps all arms exports under review.