The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees says it has opened an investigation into some employees Israel alleges were involved in the October 7 attacks, and that it has severed ties with those staff members.
“The Israeli authorities have provided UNRWA with information about the alleged involvement of several UNRWA employees in the horrific attacks on Israel on October 7,” Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said on Friday.
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“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.”
Lazzarini did not disclose the number of employees allegedly involved in the attacks, nor 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.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “horrified by this news”, according to his spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric. He added that the UN chief had asked Lazzarini to conduct a probe to ensure any UNRWA employee guilty of abetting the October 7 attacks be terminated and referred for potential criminal prosecution.
The US Department of State said it was 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 Department of State has temporarily paused additional funding for UNRWA while we review these allegations and the steps the United Nations is taking to address them,” spokesperson Matthew Miller said.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement that the 27-member bloc would “assess further steps and draw lessons based on the result of the full and comprehensive investigation”.
UNRWA, whose biggest donors in 2022 included the US, Germany and the EU, has repeatedly said its capacity to render humanitarian assistance to people in Gaza is on the verge of collapse.
Established in 1949 following the first Arab-Israeli war, the agency provides services including schooling, primary healthcare and humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Since the onset of the war on Gaza, Israeli authorities, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have accused it of fuelling anti-Israeli incitement – allegations it denies.
UNRWA says it has provided aid to desperate people in Gaza and used its facilities to shelter those fleeing Israeli attacks.
The agency’s shelters have also been repeatedly targeted by Israeli missiles during the war, despite pleas for safe passages to deliver humanitarian aid and assistance.
"The large majority of our requests for safe passage to the north have been denied"@TomWhiteGaza tells @AJEnglish of the direct attack on @UNRWA #KhanYounis training centre south #Gaza yesterday + warns people in north📍#Gaza are starving, desperate to receive humanitarian aid. pic.twitter.com/iGoMcUKEQ2
— UNRWA (@UNRWA) January 25, 2024