UN agency investigates staff suspected of role in October 7th attack on Israel

UN chief António Guterres ‘horrified’ by allegations as United States halts agency funding

The United Nations (UN) agency for Palestinian refugees said on Friday it had opened an investigation into several employees suspected of involvement in the Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7th and that it had severed ties with those staff members.

“The Israeli authorities have provided UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) with information about the alleged involvement of several UNRWA employees in the horrific attacks on Israel on October 7th,” said Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA commissioner general.

“To protect the agency’s ability to deliver humanitarian assistance, I have taken the decision to immediately terminate the contracts of these staff members and launch an investigation in order to establish the truth without delay.”

Mr Lazzarini did not disclose the number of employees allegedly involved in the attack, or the nature of their alleged involvement. He said, however, that “any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror” would be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.


Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy accused UNRWA of announcing the news while the world’s attention was focused on the International Court of Justice ordering Israel to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians and do more to help civilians in Gaza.

“Any other day, this would have been a major headline: Israel submits evidence of UN employees’ complicity with Hamas,” Mr Levy wrote on X.

UN secretary general António Guterres has been briefed about the allegations, his spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said. “The secretary general is horrified by this news,” Mr Dujarric said.

Mr Dujarric added that the UN chief asked Mr Lazzarini to conduct an investigation to ensure that any UNRWA employee shown to have participated or abetted the October 7th attack be dismissed immediately and referred for potential criminal prosecution.

“An urgent and comprehensive independent review of UNRWA will be conducted,” Mr Dujarric said.

UNRWA, whose biggest donors in 2022 included the United States, Germany and the European Union, has repeatedly said its capacity to render humanitarian assistance to people in Gaza is on the verge of collapse.

The US state department said it was extremely troubled by the allegations, which it said pertained to 12 UNRWA employees. It said it would provide no additional funding to the agency until the allegations were addressed. The state department recently praised Unrwa’s work, and the administration of Joe Biden restored funding that was halted during Donald Trump’s tenure.

Israeli minister for defence Yoav Gallant said the US decision was an important step toward holding UNRWA accountable.

UNRWA, established in 1949 following the first Arab-Israeli war, provides services including schooling, primary healthcare and humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Israeli authorities, including prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, have accused the agency of fuelling anti-Israeli incitement, allegations it denies.

On the ground in Gaza, the war has entered a particularly destructive phase, with the heaviest fighting in weeks now taking place in crowded areas jammed with thousands of people who fled from earlier fighting elsewhere.

Israel kept up its bombardment of the main southern city of Khan Younis, reporting “intensive battles” and strikes on dozens of Hamas fighters and infrastructure from the air and ground.

Residents said gun battles raged overnight, with Israeli forces blowing up buildings and houses in the western part of the city.

Israel said it had discovered some 200 tunnel shafts and destroyed more than 130 militant infrastructure sites in its latest operations, as well as killing “numerous militants”.

Palestinians say Israel has blockaded hospitals making it impossible for rescuers to reach the dead and wounded. Israel denies blockading hospitals and says Hamas fighters are to blame for operating near them. – Reuters

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