Some western countries, including the United States, have halted additional funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the leading aid distributor in Gaza. The decision follows allegations made by Israel that 12 UNRWA employees were involved in the Hamas attack on 7 October last year.

Israel have identified the implicated UNRWA staff members, resulting in nine dismissals, one fatality, and two individuals under scrutiny. Israel has not publicly disclosed the details of these allegations. Still, Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and Shin Bet claim that UNRWA staffers had participated in the attack using the agency’s vehicles and facilities.

Some describe the funding freeze as a collective punishment, affecting over 2.2 million Palestinians. UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Michael Fakhri, warns of an inevitable famine in Gaza due to the funding pause. Before the freeze, about half of Gaza’s population heavily relied on UNRWA assistance for essential services, including schooling, medical care, and access to clean water.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres initiated a UN investigation to address the allegations. He pointed out the need for transparency and accountability. The potential shutdown of UNRWA is anticipated to worsen the already challenging humanitarian situation in Gaza, with significant limitations on aid entering the area.

Since 7 October, UNRWA’s facilities, including schools, have served as shelters for those displaced as a result of the Israeli bombing campaign. The ongoing war, now in its fourth month, has far surpassed projections, displacing 85% of the population from their homes. Civilians in Gaza face acute shortages of food, water, and medicine in winter.

The crisis with UNRWA has overshadowed ICJ’s interim ruling, stating that Israel must take measures to prevent civilian deaths in Gaza and enable the delivery of humanitarian aid to prevent acts of genocide in the strip.

As the funding freeze continues, concerns grow over the limited supply of aid reaching Gaza. Estimates suggest that 500 lorries daily are needed, but less than 100 can often pass through checkpoints. UNRWA had to adjust its distribution plans for food due to the large number of people seeking shelter, many of whom are on the verge of starvation after being displaced multiple times.

The funding challenges for UNRWA have intensified since the 2018 decision by then-President Donald Trump to cut US support. This was later restored by the Biden administration in 2022. That year, the US became the agency’s largest donor, providing $340 million.

In a separate development, a group identifying itself as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq has claimed responsibility for a drone attack that killed three American soldiers and wounded 34 others at a base along the Jordan-Syria border.

Meanwhile, Israeli cabinet ministers have attended the “Return to Gaza” conference, sparking concerns as plans for illegal settlements in the war-ravaged territory are discussed. Israel continues its assault on Khan Younis, forcing more Palestinians into the overcrowded Rafah city in southern Gaza.

Since 7 October, Israel has killed 26,422 Palestinians and wounded 65,087 in Gaza.