Japan resumes funding to embattled Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA

FILE PHOTO: Displaced Palestinians wait to receive United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) aid, in Rafah

By John Geddie and Yoshifumi Takemoto

TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan on Tuesday said it will lift its suspension of funding to the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) as the relief body works to regain trust after an allegation that some of its staff were involved in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Japan, the sixth-biggest donor to the agency, and 15 other countries paused about $450 million in funding following the allegation by Israel in January, throwing the agency's operations in the war-torn Gaza Strip into turmoil.

Countries including Australia and Canada have since restored funding to the UNRWA, the largest relief body operating in Gaza, which has been besieged by Israel since the attack.

Japan's Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, who met UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini in Tokyo last week, said the agency's role in addressing the Gaza crisis 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 due to an ongoing investigation by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services.

The UNRWA fired some staff following the allegations. It later said some employees released into Gaza from Israeli detention reported having been pressured by Israeli authorities into falsely stating that staff took part in the Oct. 7 attack, according to a report by the agency dated February.

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.

(Reporting by John Geddie, Yoshifumi Takemoto and Satoshi Sugiyama in Tokyo; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Michael Perry and Jamie Freed)