Japan resumes funding to UNRWA for its ‘indispensable’ aid work in Gaza

Japan on Tuesday said it will lift its suspension of funding to the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA as the relief body works to regain trust after Israel surfaced intelligence that its staff were involved in Hamas’s brutal October 7 onslaught on Israel.

Japan, the sixth-biggest donor to the agency, and 15 other countries paused about $450 million in funding following the allegations in January, throwing the agency’s operations in the Gaza Strip into turmoil.

Countries including Australia and Canada have since restored funding to UNRWA, the largest relief body operating in Gaza, amid the ongoing war between Israel and the Hamas terror group, which rules the enclave.

Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, who met UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini in Tokyo last week, said the agency’s role in Gaza was “indispensable” even as it works to improve governance and manage risks.

“Japan will lift the moratorium on its financial contributions to UNRWA and provide assistance while ensuring and confirming the appropriateness of Japan’s funds,” Kamikawa told reporters, adding that about $35 million of originally planned funding was ready to be released.

A senior foreign ministry official later told a press briefing that Japan could not comment on the veracity of Israel’s allegations against UNRWA due to an ongoing investigation by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services.

In February, Israel revealed the identities of the 12 UNRWA staff members who it said “actively participated” in the October 7 massacre, which saw thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst into Israel, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, mostly civilians, amid acts of brutality and sexual assault.

Among the staff who took part in the attack are teachers, counsellors and social workers who worked at UNRWA schools, Israel said.

Israel has also shared intelligence indicating that of the 13,000 UNRWA employees in Gaza, at least 12% are affiliated with the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad groups.

UNRWA fired some staff following the allegations. It later claimed some employees released into Gaza from Israeli detention said they were coerced by Israeli authorities into falsely stating that staff took part in the October 7 attack,

The assertions are contained in a report by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) reviewed by Reuters and dated February 2024, which detailed allegations of mistreatment in Israeli detention made by unidentified Palestinians, including several working for UNRWA.

Reuters could not independently confirm the accounts of coercion of UNRWA staff and mistreatment of detainees, although the allegations of ill-treatment accord with some descriptions by Palestinians freed from detention in December, February and March reported by Reuters and other news media.

A separate review of the UNRWA’s activities and neutrality led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna is expected to publish its final report later this month.

Israel has started working with other groups in Gaza, such as the UN World Food Programme, to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinians instead of UNRWA, which it has said it is seeking to shut down following years of allegations.

(Source: The Times of Israel)