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Aid groups appeal to the European Union to release funds for Palestinian refugee agency

BRUSSELS — Humanitarian aid groups appealed on Thursday to the European Union to release tens of millions of euros in funding due to the main U.N. agency that delivers aid to people in the Gaza Strip as the organization teeters on the brink of financial collapse.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, was due to disburse 82 million euros ($89 million) to the UNRWA aid agency on Feb. 29. UNRWA said that it still hadn’t received the payment as of Thursday morning.

UNRWA is reeling from allegations that 12 of its 13,000 Gaza staff members participated in the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack in southern Israel that ignited this Israel-Hamas war. The agency immediately fired the employees, but more than a dozen countries suspended funding worth about $450 million, almost half its budget for 2024.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini has described the payment due from the EU as “absolutely critical.” The agency has been the main supplier of food, water and shelter during the war in Gaza. Lazzarini has warned that it may be forced to suspend its work soon.

Two U.N. investigations into Israel’s allegations against the agency are underway, but the European Commission —- the third biggest donor to UNRWA after the United States and Germany —- has demanded a separate audit and wants to appoint experts to carry it out.

Asked on Thursday how the audit is evolving and when funds might be released, European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said that “work is ongoing.”

“The plight of the Palestinian people is of utmost concern to us. At the same time, we have set out a number of points that need to be agreed with UNRWA before we make our decision on the next payment, which is indeed foreseen for the end of the month,” Mamer said.

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