The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said Friday it had opened an investigation into several employees suspected of involvement in the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel by Hamas-led militants and that it had severed ties with those staff members.
U.S. also suspends funding to UNRWA in wake of announcementThomson Reuters
· Posted: Jan 26, 2024 11:16 AM EST | Last Updated: January 26
A Palestinian man holds a bag of flour as others wait to receive rations from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency during a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel, in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, on Nov. 29, 2023. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters )The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said on Friday it had opened an investigation into several employees suspected of involvement in the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel by Hamas-led militants and that it had 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 Oct. 7,” 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.”
Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA commissioner general, addresses the assembly during the Global Refugee Forum, in Geneva, Switzerland in December. (Jean-Guy Python/Reuters)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.
A spokesperson for UNRWA would not provide further details on the situation.
Canada’s minister of international development, Ahmed Hussen, said the federal government has put a pause on additional funding to UNRWA while the allegations are investigated.
Hussen said he spoke directly with Lazzarini on Friday to express Canada’s alarm at the allegations.
“Canada is taking these reports extremely seriously and is engaging closely with UNRWA and other donors on this issue,” he said in a statement.
Canada unequivocally condemns the October 7th attack on Israel. I am deeply troubled by the allegations relating to some UNRWA employees. I have instructed Global Affairs Canada to pause all additional funding to UNRWA pending the outcome of the investigation. Read my statement: pic.twitter.com/YfEbwhKvzx
—@HonAhmedHussenThe U.S. 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 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 it would “assess further steps and draw lessons based on the result of the full and comprehensive investigation.”
Israeli government spokesperson 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,” Levy wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
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‘Mass casualties’ from attack on UN compound in Gaza, officials sayUnited Nations officials say Israeli tanks struck a vocational training compound sheltering displaced Palestinians in Khan Younis on Wednesday, with the reportedly deadly attack prompting a rebuke from Washington. Israel denied its forces were responsible and said it was reviewing the possibility that the strike was a result of Hamas fire.
UN chief ‘horrified’Antonio Guterres, UN secretary general, has been briefed on the allegations, his spokesperson said.
“The secretary general is horrified by this news,” Stéphane Dujarric said.
Dujarric said the UN chief had asked Lazzarini to conduct a probe to ensure that any UNRWA employee shown to have participated or abetted the Oct. 7 attacks be terminated immediately and referred for potential criminal prosecution.
“An urgent and comprehensive independent review of UNRWA will be conducted,” 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.
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Agency created in 1949UNRWA, officially called the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, was established in 1949 following the first Arab-Israeli war. It provides services including schooling, primary health care and humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Israeli authorities, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have accused the agency of fuelling anti-Israeli incitement, allegations it denies.
A Palestinian man carries flour bags distributed by UNRWA in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip in November, during a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)UNRWA has provided aid and used its facilities to shelter people fleeing bombardment and a ground offensive launched by Israel in Gaza following the Oct. 7 attacks, in which Israel says about 1,200 people were killed and about 250 taken hostage.
Israel’s offensive has laid waste to much of the densely populated Gaza Strip and killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, according to health officials in the territory.