UNRWA distributes flour to Palestinian refugees in Khan Yunis, Gaza. The EC has held back some aid money to UNWRA but increased its overall aid package. (Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)


EC withholds some UN funds for Palestine but ups overall aid budget


The European Commission will hold back part of a payment of 82 million for the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA)  – but increase overall aid to the Palestinians by €68 million this year.

UNRWA was thrown into crisis after Israel alleged in January that 12 of the agency’s 13,000 staff in the enclave were involved in the Hamas attack of Octber 7 last year.

As with many of the agency’s other major donors, the European Union’s executive body reviewed its funding of UNRWA after Israel made the allegations.

The EC said on March 1 it now would “proceed to paying” a first tranche of €50 million of the €82 million due to have been paid around the end of February.

It said it would provide two further tranches of €16 million “in line with” an agreement with UNRWA to address concerns raised by the Israeli accusations.

The UN agency dismissed all the accused staff following the allegations but many major donors, including the US, Britain and several EU Member States, suspended payments or said they would not approve new funding until the matter was resolved.

UNRWA said a total of about €415 million in funding was at risk and warned its operations across the Middle East would be “severely compromised” from March.

The agency’s boss, Philippe Lazzarini, said on March 1 that disbursing €50 million imminently would support UNWRA delivering “lifesaving and essential services” to Palestinian refugees. He said the agency was co-operating with an ongoing external review of its work.

“The full disbursement of the EU contribution is key to the agency’s ability to maintain its operations in a very volatile area,” he said.

The EC is one of the biggest donors to UNRWA and the agency’s boss Philippe Lazzarini said in February that the €82 million from Brussels due around the end of that month was “absolutely critical”.

The sum from the EU executive is an “operational grant”, meant to cover UNWRA operations including staff salaries this year, officials said.

In its statement, the EC said it would allocate an additional €68 million “to support the Palestinian population across the region to be implemented through international partners like the Red Cross and the Red Crescent”.

EC President Ursula von der Leyen said: “We stand by the Palestinian people in Gaza and elsewhere in the region. Innocent Palestinians should not have to pay the price for the crimes of terrorist group Hamas.

“They face terrible conditions putting their lives at risk because of lack of access to sufficient food and other basic needs.

“That is why we are reinforcing our support to them this year by a further €68 million,” she said.

On top of the operational grant, the EU executive has also assigned up to €125 million this year for specific humanitarian aid projects for Palestinians. On March 1, it confirmed contracting the first €16 millions of that.

As well as dismissing the accused staff, the UN launched an investigation into the allegations and also commissioned a review of UNRWA’s adherence to “neutrality”.

In a statement on January 29, the EC set out three conditions it expected UNRWA to meet before any further transfer of aid from Brussels.

It said it expected an audit into how the agency prevents the involvement of staff in “terrorist activities”, a strengthening of its internal investigation unit and a review to confirm that no staff took part in the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel.

“UNRWA and the Commission have today confirmed their understanding on these points,” the Commission said on March 1.

At the time of writing, there had been no comment from UNWRA.