UNRWA's EU representative, Marta Lorenzo. (Eric VIDAL / © European Union 2024)


EU debate on aid for alleged Hamas-linked UN organisation prompts fiery exchanges


The European Parliament saw heated debate on February 13 as MEPs argued over continuing European Union support to a UN aid agency working in the Gaza Strip.

That came after the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was recently alleged to have employed 13 Hamas terrorists who had taken part in the October 7 attacks on Israel.

The Director of UNRWA Marta Lorenzo claimed the organisation was in dire straits after several nations and major donors cut their aid following the allegations of Hamas links.

Lorenzo said that if the EU suspended aid “[UNRWA] won’t be able to run operations past February”.

David Lega, Swedish MEP for the Christian Democrats, lambasted UNRWA for its claimed ties with Hamas.

“I have never heard of a larger failure regarding any humanitarian project,” he said on X.

Lega referred to recent reports alleging that more than 1,200 UNRWA employees are members of either Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement.

Reports also claimed there were Hamas tunnels underneath the UNRWA headquarters powered by the UN agency’s generators.

“[Gazans] need an organisation that provides food and clean water, not one that participates in terror attacks,” Lega said.

“They need an organisation that provides shelter, not one that is busy celebrating these attacks.”

If the allegations are proven, Lega asked the Commission representatives, should UNRWA still continue to operate with EU aid and, if so, he continued: “How much more does it take? When is the limit reached? Do you have a limit?”

“Debate with UNRWA in the Foreign Affairs Committee, where I asked several questions but got no answers. My conclusion: we simply cannot give this organisation any more chances,” he added on X.

The chamber had been practically empty before the talks but, surprisingly for a discussion scheduled for later in the evening, MEPs, their teams, reporters and NGO began filing in early, quickly filling the benches.

The picture painted by Lega of the situation in the Gaza Strip was dire.

More than a million Gazans are now crowded into the city of Rafa, at the Southern end of the Strip on the Egyptian border. In excess of 100 UNRWA employees have already been killed amid the fighting.

Lorenzo and many MEPs emphasised that UNRWA was seen as the sole source of basic food and health-care for most of Gaza’s internally displaced population.

Hans Das, an EC representative, said up to a million Palestinians were “on the brink of famine”.

Many Left and centre-left MEPs argued that the scale of UNRWA’s alleged involvement with Hamas was small and insisted the organisation was “too essential” and civilians’ needs “too urgent” to cut the EU’s funding.

Nacho Sanchez Amor, Spanish MEP for the centre-left S&D Group, referring to the 12 aid agency staff who were allegedly involved in the October 7 attacks, stated that amounted to “0.004 per cent of UNRWA’s staff”.

“Should we really stop providing funding to UNRWA because 0.004 per cent of their staff has been found provisionally guilty?”

He added that “0.28 per cent of this Parliament is actually under investigation for Qatargate. … so should we close Parliament?”, prompting laughter from the gathered attendees.