Israeli intelligence accuses UNRWA staff of kidnap, seizing body

Israeli intelligence dossier alleges that a dozen UN agency employees were involved in the October 7 attack on Israel.

A truck, marked with United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) logo, crosses into Egypt from Gaza, at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, during a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel, in Rafah, Egypt, November 27, 2023. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
With the majority of its budget in doubt, and because it spends donor contributions as they come in throughout the year, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) says it will be forced to halt operations within weeks if funding isn't restored [File: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]

An Israeli intelligence document that prompted several countries to halt funds for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) includes allegations that some staff took part in abductions and killings during the Hamas-led attack against Israel on October 7.

The Israeli dossier alleges that some 190 UNRWA employees, including teachers, have doubled as Hamas or Islamic Jihad fighters, the Reuters news agency reported.

Palestinian officials have accused Israel of falsifying information to tarnish UNRWA. The UN has fired nine of the accused workers, condemned “the abhorrent alleged acts” and launched an investigation into the allegations.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met the head of internal investigations at the world body to ensure an inquiry into the allegations “will be done swiftly and as efficiently as possible,” a UN spokesperson said on Monday.

Hamas launched a surprise attack on southern Israel on October 7, killing at least 1,139 people and taking 240 others captive, according to Israeli figures.

Israel responded to the attack with a devastating bombardment, siege and ground invasion of Gaza. More than 26,600 people have been killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza, according to Palestinian authorities, and vast areas of the territory have been reduced to rubble.

The Israeli document listed 12 people, their alleged roles in the October 7 attack, job descriptions and photos. The findings detailed in the document could not be independently confirmed.

The dossier said of the 12 workers, nine were teachers and one a social worker. Seven of the employees were accused of crossing into Israel on October 7. Of those, one was accused of taking part in a kidnapping, another of helping to abduct the body of a dead soldier and three others of participating in the attacks.

One was accused of arming himself with an anti-tank missile the night before the attack, while the document claimed another took photos of a female hostage. Ten were listed as having ties to Hamas and one to the Islamic Jihad militant group.

Two of the 12 have been killed, according to the document. The UN previously said one person was still being identified.

Funds suspension

The allegations against UNRWA staffers led several donor countries to freeze funds for the agency.

UNRWA provides crucial day-to-day assistance for 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza who are living through a dire humanitarian catastrophe amid the Israeli assault. The agency said on Monday that it would not be able to continue operations in Gaza and across the region beyond the end of February if funding were not resumed.

More than 10 countries, including major donors the United States, United Kingdom and Germany, have halted their funding to the agency.

Some donor countries have said they would continue to fund UNRWA, while others have urged donors to resume their cooperation. Saudi Arabia urged the agency’s supporters to “carry out their role in supporting the humanitarian tasks toward Palestinian refugees”. Lebanon called the suspension of funding a “historic mistake”, and Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani said UNRWA should not be punished over claims against individual staff members.

Since the war began, most Palestinians in Gaza have come to depend on the agency’s programmes for “sheer survival”, including food and shelter, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini has said.

Long-standing tensions

The allegations have stoked long-standing tensions between Israel and UNRWA. Israel says Hamas uses the agency’s facilities to store weapons and launch attacks. UNRWA says it does not knowingly tolerate such behaviour and has internal safeguards to prevent abuses and discipline any wrongdoing.

Even before the latest allegations, Lazzarini had announced that he was ordering an external review of the agency’s operations and its safeguards.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said he had cancelled a Wednesday meeting between Israeli officials and Lazzarini, and called on the UNRWA head to resign.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies