US Congress deal bars US funds to UNRWA until March 2025, sources say

By Thomson Reuters Mar 19, 2024 | 5:03 PM

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An agreement reached by U.S. congressional leaders and the White House on a massive bill funding military, State Department and a range of other government programs will continue a ban on U.S. funding for UNRWA, the main U.N. agency for Palestinians, until March 2025, two sources said on Tuesday.

President Joe Biden’s administration said in January it was temporarily pausing new funding to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) after Israel accused 12 of the agency’s 13,000 employees in Gaza of participating in the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

The U.S. Senate passed legislation last month cutting off funding for the agency, part of a $95 billion bill providing aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan that has stalled in the House of Representativies.

Backers of the aid have been trying to get it restored, calling on Washington to support the relief body as aid groups work to ward off famine in Gaza.

The two sources familiar with the agreement said the funding would be blocked for a year, and that details of alternative efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza would be discussed after the legislation is made public.

The White House and congressional leaders declined comment on details of the agreement until texts of the spending bills are released.

The U.N. has launched an investigation into the allegations against the UNRWA staff, and the agency fired some staff after Israel provided it with information.

The U.S., UNRWA’s largest donor, providing $300 million to $400 million annually, said it wants to see the results of that inquiry and corrective measures taken before it will consider resuming funding.

The war in Gaza was triggered when Hamas fighters crossed into Israel on a rampage on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and capturing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Nearly 32,000 people have been confirmed killed in Israel’s retaliatory onslaught, according to Palestinian health officials, with thousands more feared lost under the rubble.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by David Gregorio)