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State Dept. pauses funding for UN agency amid allegations employees involved in Israel attack

The State Department is temporarily pausing new funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East while reviewing allegations that 12 UNRWA employees were involved in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, according to State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke Thursday with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres "to emphasize the necessity of a thorough and swift investigation of this matter," Miller said in a statement.

"There must be complete accountability for anyone who participated in the heinous attacks of October 7," Miller said.

PHOTO: Women react as friends and family mourn Israeli military reservist Sergeant Major Matan Lazar, 32, who was killed in the southern Gaza Strip, at his funeral, in Haifa, Israel, Jan. 23, 2024.  (Shir Torem/Reuters)
PHOTO: Women react as friends and family mourn Israeli military reservist Sergeant Major Matan Lazar, 32, who was killed in the southern Gaza Strip, at his funeral, in Haifa, Israel, Jan. 23, 2024. (Shir Torem/Reuters)

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Guterres "is horrified by this news" and asked the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, to "investigate this matter swiftly and to ensure that any UNRWA employee shown to have participated or abetted what transpired on 7 October, or in any other criminal activity, be terminated immediately and referred for potential criminal prosecution," the secretary-general’s spokesperson said.

Lazzarini said he’s fired several staff members after Israel provided the agency "with information about the alleged involvement of several UNRWA employees" in the Oct. 7 attacks.

An investigation is underway, he said, warning that "any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution."

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"UNRWA reiterates its condemnation in the strongest possible terms of the abhorrent attacks of 7 October and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all Israeli hostages and their safe return to their families," Lazzarini said. "These shocking allegations come as more than 2 million people in Gaza depend on lifesaving assistance that the Agency has been providing since the war began. Anyone who betrays the fundamental values of the United Nations also betrays those whom we serve in Gaza, across the region and elsewhere around the world."

PHOTO: Displaced Palestinians hold empty pots and buckets as they wait to receive food aid provided by a Palestinian youth group in the Rafah refugee camp, Southern Gaza Strip, Jan. 25 2024.  (Haitham Imad/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
PHOTO: Displaced Palestinians hold empty pots and buckets as they wait to receive food aid provided by a Palestinian youth group in the Rafah refugee camp, Southern Gaza Strip, Jan. 25 2024. (Haitham Imad/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Miller said the U.S. has reached out to Israel about the allegations and he said the U.S. will stay in communication with Israel and the U.N. about the matter.

"It is important that UNRWA address these allegations and take any appropriate corrective measures, including reviewing its existing policies and procedures," Miller said.

In a post on X, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant thanked the U.S. for its "leadership and taking an important step in holding @UNRWA accountable."

State Dept. pauses funding for UN agency amid allegations employees involved in Israel attack originally appeared on abcnews.go.com