UN Palestinian agency chief says funding secured until end of May

UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini said the agency had enough funding until the end of May (Fabrice COFFRINI)
UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini said the agency had enough funding until the end of May (Fabrice COFFRINI)

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees has enough funds to keep operating until at least the end of May, its chief told Swiss media on Tuesday.

UNRWA, which coordinates nearly all aid to Gaza, has been in crisis since Israel accused about a dozen of its 13,000 Gaza employees of being involved in the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

This led many donor nations, including the United States, to abruptly suspend funding to the agency, threatening its efforts to deliver desperately-needed aid in Gaza, where the UN has warned of an impending famine.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini had warned last month that the funding crunch was so great the organisation might not be able to operate beyond March.

But after a number of countries recently resumed or increased their funding, including Spain, Canada and Australia, Lazzarini told Switzerland's Keystone-ATS news agency Tuesday that "the situation today is less dramatic".

"But we are still working from one month to the next," he said, adding that now "we have funding until the end of May".

Lazzarini was in Geneva to brief Switzerland's parliamentary foreign policy commission on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and to address questions about Israel's accusations against the UNRWA employees, the commission said in a brief statement.

The Swiss national is hoping to convince his country to follow the lead of the nations that have resumed their funding to UNRWA.

Switzerland, which in recent years has dished out around 20 million Swiss francs ($23 million) annually to UNRWA, said in late January the 2024 payment was in doubt following Israel's allegations against the agency.

The United Nations has launched both an internal and an independent investigation but has said Israel has not provided it with any evidence to support the claims against its staff.

Lazzarini has accused Israel of trying to destroy UNRWA, which employs some 30,000 people across the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, providing healthcare, education and other basic services.

He was himself barred last week from entering Gaza, and said at the weekend that Israel had definitively barred the agency from making aid deliveries into northern Gaza, where the threat of famine is highest.

The October 7 attack resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory campaign against Hamas has killed at least 32,414 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.