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Israel Says Up to 10% of UN Agency’s Gaza Staff Were in Militant Groups

Israel Says Up to 10% of UN Agency’s Gaza Staff Were in Militant Groups
A Palestinian resident carries a bag of wheat flour distributed at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency center in Rafah, Gaza. Photographer: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

As many as 10% of the UN relief agency’s 12,000 workers in the Gaza Strip were members of the militant groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, according to an Israeli intelligence assessment shared with the US.

It was part of a report setting out Israel’s belief that at least 13 of the United Nations workers took part in the deadly Hamas assault on Oct. 7.

The Israeli assessment, which was seen by Bloomberg News, claims that six employees with the UN Relief and Works Agency infiltrated Israeli territory during the attack, in which some 1,200 people were killed and about 240 more kidnapped and brought to the Gaza Strip. According to the document, four UNRWA employees were involved in kidnapping Israelis.

The document, which didn’t name any of the suspects, couldn’t be independently verified. But it offered new details to undergird Israel’s longstanding accusation that UNRWA, which provides schooling, medicine and humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, is deeply connected to and sometimes works in concert with Hamas.

A person familiar with the matter said Monday night Israel had shared the information with Biden administration officials, who were reviewing it.

Read more: UN Fires Gaza Staff Over Claims They Joined Hamas Attack

Israel has long accused the agency of giving cover to Palestinian militants, promoting hatred of Israel in its schools and perpetuating the 75-year-old conflict by failing to encourage the resettlement and rehabilitation of Palestinian refugees. UNRWA employs more than 12,000 workers in the Gaza Strip and runs a network of schools and welfare services, including essential aid and shelter during the war.

The assessment calls the organization’s relationship with Hamas one of “mutual dependence” and said Hamas has gained influence over the agency’s employee commission.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “horrified by the news” that workers with UNRWA might have been involved in the attack by Hamas and urged the agency’s chief to refer the accused for potential prosecution, his office said in a statement last week. According to the statement, there will be an “urgent and comprehensive independent review” of the agency.

Asked about the Israeli claims, John Kirby, spokesman for the US National Security Council, told reporters on Monday that it was important not to impugn the work of the entire agency.

“I am not dismissing the seriousness of the allegations against those employees,” he said. “Hopefully, the investigation will give us more insight. It is important the UNRWA staff and commissioner general and the UN Secretary-General Guterres last week made it clear they’re taking this seriously. That’s our expectation too.”

The Israeli accusations spurred the US, UK and several other Western countries to suspend funding to the UN agency last week. The UN has urged the countries to reverse course, warning the withholding of funds could lead to a famine in the Gaza Strip, where UNRWA is a key provider of water, food, and shelter to two million Palestinians. The UN agency said it fired several workers over the claims and vowed to investigate.

How UNRWA Refugee Body Got Caught in Israel-Gaza War: QuickTake

While UN officials are aware of media references to the dossier, they haven’t received it from Israeli authorities, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday.

Israel, citing interrogations of Hamas operatives, also accused UNRWA of diverting humanitarian aid and fuel to Hamas during the current conflict that was meant for Palestinian civilians.

At the same time, the document suggested that in some cases UNRWA may have little choice but to cooperate with Hamas.

“Hamas uses UNRWA and its activity to build up and advance terrorist attacks,” the document said. “It should be noted that UNRWA does not have the capability to eradicate this phenomenon due to its need for cooperation with Hamas to continue the agency’s activity and functionality” in the Gaza Strip.

More than 26,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed since the war with Israel began, according to officials in the Hamas-run enclave, and more than a million have been displaced. About 130 Israeli hostages are still being held in Gaza, amid talks aimed at their release in exchange for a cease-fire.

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  • johnathanvannier says:

    South Africa took isreal to the ICJ yet they haven’t thought about looking in their own country with over 72000 people killed in 2023 and more than 1.5 million people displaced with little or no food . Most of the displaced are not even in school . It’s time some country decided to take south africa to the ICJ

  • Wayne Holt says:

    And it remains to be seen how involved 4 large South African banks were involved in funding Hammas.. I wonder how the ANC and ICJ are going to respond given it’s seemingly true

  • Jay Davis says:

    This sounds awfully familiar- news agencies repeating unverified reports from Israeli intelligence that seemingly make the entire population of Gaza responsible. How strange that it comes just after the ICJ ruling, and now the agency that was providing the most aid has lost almost all of its funding. It appears history does repeat itself, but just like with the hospital bombings and imaginary beheaded babies, by the time the Israeli intelligence comes out as false the damage will be done.

    • Rod H MacLeod says:

      That’s pathetic Jay. Facts are facts, and no amount of spin will change that. Hamas is a powerful and widely supported group in Palkestine. You’re trying to impugn that very few Palestinians want Israel obliterated, but the sad fact is most of them do – they just can’t manage it.

  • Pieter van Rooyen says:

    If you care to read the news you would know that Israel had exposed UNRWA long before the ICJ case, through learning materials and videos found in their schools.

  • ikhraam23 says:

    Of course, coming from Israel it must be true. See how quickly the European nations acted to suspend their contributions. Now if that was the other side complaining…

  • PJ T says:

    Why does UNRWA exist? The UN has a refugee agency that caters for all other refugees, why doesn’t it cater for these refugees? UNRWA is simply giving the UN a bad name. It should be disbanded, but that may cost some people their jobs.

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