HomeWorld NewsIsraeli document alleges U.N. workers took part in Oct. 7 Hamas attack

Israeli document alleges U.N. workers took part in Oct. 7 Hamas attack

JERUSALEM — More than a dozen employees of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees allegedly played a role in the Hamas-led attacks on Israeli towns on Oct. 7, with some actively involved in kidnappings, according to an intelligence dossier compiled by the Israeli government and reviewed Monday by The Washington Post.

The explosive accusations, which could not be independently verified by The Post, have sparked a high-level U.N. investigation and prompted a cascade of governments to put millions of dollars in funding for the agency on hold at the height of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The dossier, first reported by the New York Times, includes many charges that Israel has leveled for years against the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, namely that it maintains a state of “mutual dependence” with Hamas.

But the new accusations of complicity on Oct. 7 — when Hamas-led fighters rampaged through southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, according to Israeli authorities, many of them civilians — have plunged the United Nations into crisis and threatened its operations in Gaza. UNRWA is the leading provider of aid and shelter in the besieged enclave as a possible famine looms and has warned that funding could run out by the end of February.

Gaza’s desperate hunger: Families struggle to fend off starvation

Thirteen UNRWA employees took direct part in the attacks, including six who infiltrated into Israel, the document alleges — identifying five as affiliated with Hamas. The document does not name the accused.

Two of those who entered Israel, and two other employees in Gaza, allegedly aided in the kidnapping of some of the 253 people who were taken captive that day. One hostage, likely among the 105 released during a pause in combat in late November, testified that she was abducted by an UNRWA teacher, the dossier said.

The document alleges that three additional employees were directed by text message to gather at an assembly point on the night of Oct. 6 to be equipped with weapons, though there was no confirmation that they joined the rendezvous. At least one UNRWA employee supplied “logistic support” to the attack, and another was tasked with setting up an operations center in the aftermath, the dossier asserts. It is unclear whether the accused employees followed the alleged orders.

“We discovered that there are UNRWA workers that actually participated either directly or indirectly in the Oct. 7 massacre,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Britain’s TalkTV on Monday. “UNRWA is perforated with Hamas.”

The findings were presented Friday to foreign governments and the United Nations, according to an Israeli official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified issues. However, Juliette Touma, UNRWA’s director of communications, said Monday that Israel has yet to share the full dossier with them.

The news broke within hours of a ruling by the United Nations’ International Court of Justice that ordered Israel to take immediate steps to protect civilians in Gaza.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said Sunday that its highest investigative body, the New York-based Office of Internal Oversight Services, had “immediately activated” an investigation into the allegations.

“Any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution,” Guterres said in a statement. He added that nine employees were “immediately identified and terminated,” one is “confirmed dead,” and “the identity of the two others is being clarified.”

The investigation puts UNRWA in uncharted waters. It remains unclear how long the inquiry will take, how it will be carried out in an active war zone and whether its findings will be deemed satisfactory by Israel and its allies. The longer the investigation takes, the more precarious the agency’s position becomes.

At least 10 governments moved swiftly to pause support for UNRWA, including the United States, Britain, Germany and Australia. In 2022, the United States was the largest donor, contributing $344 million.

“There must be complete accountability for anyone who participated in the heinous attacks of October 7,” the State Department said in a statement Friday, adding that it has briefed members of Congress on the allegations.

Francesca Albanese, the U.N. special papporteur in the occupied Palestinian territories, said by phone from Tunis that UNRWA already has “a very solid system in place to verify allegations” of wrongdoing by staff members and contractors.

“The agency has already separated the members who are alleged to have committed the attacks,” she said. “Suspending funds at this critical point is absolutely unconscionable.”

The UNRWA crisis comes at a desperate moment for Gaza. At least 26,422 people have been killed, many of them women and children, and 65,087 have been injured since the start of Israel’s military operation, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. More than 150 UNRWA employees are among the dead, the United Nations says, the largest loss of life the organization has ever experienced in a single conflict.

At least 1.9 million people in the enclave have been displaced, and 90 percent are eating less than one meal a day, according to the World Food Program. Disease is spreading, and the health-care system is in ruins.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said Sunday that more than 2 million Gazans are almost entirely dependent on aid provided by the agency and that more than a million are sheltering in U.N. facilities, most of them former schools. Even before the funding pause, aid organizations had warned that Gaza was on the verge of a total humanitarian collapse, with hunger and exposure to the winter cold emerging as the most urgent threats to civilians.

Donors typically contribute money throughout the year, so it was not immediately clear how much aid would be withheld. But without a renewal in funding, UNRWA can sustain operations only until “the end of February,” Touma said.

“These cuts are going to severely impact operations,” she added. “The timing is really so critical as the risk of famine looms and humanitarian needs deepen, as more and more people are displaced.”

UNRWA coordinates the movement of humanitarian supplies into Gaza through the Rafah and Kerem Shalom border crossings, a difficult and dangerous process often carried out under fire.

The agency is the biggest distributor of food in the strip, Touma said, and one of the few remaining providers of medical care. If the agency ends its work in Gaza, she said, no other humanitarian group is positioned to take its place.

“I have never, ever seen such an arbitrary and reckless defunding of a large lifeline on mere allegation from a party to a conflict,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. “They are going to defund all of this work because of a potential dirty dozen of UNRWA colleagues who betrayed all of the principles that we stand for?”

UNRWA was established in 1949 and charged with assisting Palestinian refugees who fled or were forced from their homes during the founding of Israel. In the decades since, temporary refugee camps have become permanent slums, and the agency has taken on many functions of a state for a stateless population.

Israel has long accused UNWRA of abetting Hamas military activities inside Gaza by allowing or overlooking the group’s use of U.N. facilities and its construction of an extensive underground tunnel network. The agency’s schools and textbooks, Israel says, stoke antisemitism and encourage the Palestinian right of return.

Calls to shut down the agency have intensified during the latest conflict. “You cannot win the war without destroying UNRWA, and the destruction has to start today,” Noga Arbell, a former Israeli official, told Israel’s parliament earlier this month.

Yet without UNRWA, the responsibility for some 5 million people in the Palestinian territories would fall to Israel.

In the occupied West Bank, tens of thousands of children study in UNRWA schools, and Palestinians rely on its medical facilities — helping to supplement the western-backed, but perennially cash-strapped, Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah. The potential curtailment of services could have a destabilizing impact there, as well, at a time when Israeli settler violence and Palestinian militancy are on the rise.

UNRWA also provides health care, employment and educational services to tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, which increasingly find themselves at the center of widening regional violence.

Hazem Balousha in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

Source link



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisment -

Most Popular

Recent Comments