UN to investigate claim employees participated in October 7 attack


Three Israeli defence officials said military intelligence officers have collected an enormous trove of information after October 7, and in the past two weeks they matched it with a second cache of intelligence that solidified an assessment that the UNRWA employees had been involved in the attack.

UNRWA was created to provide aid to millions of Palestinians across the Middle East whose families fled or were forced from properties during the wars surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948. Since Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006 and then ousted a rival faction from Gaza a year later, the group, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States and other countries, ceded many of its civil responsibilities to UNRWA.

A destroyed Israeli tank at the Gaza Strip fence east of Khan Younis on October 7.Credit: AP

The agency employed about 13,000 workers, most of them Palestinians, before the war began.

Israel and the UN have each accused each other of acting in bad faith since Israel launched its war in Gaza following the October 7 Hamas-led assault. The UN has accused Israel of slowing the delivery of humanitarian aid to the embattled enclave, and Israel has said the world body has promoted Hamas’ propaganda.

Those recriminations, however, are less politically sensitive than the accusation that humanitarian workers could have engaged in an act of terror, an allegation being taken seriously by the UN leadership, the United States and the European Union.

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On October 7, Hamas-led assailants raided towns in southern Israel, where they killed, tortured and raped victims. More than 240 people, among them children and old people, were abducted to Gaza as hostages.

Last year, the UN General Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution calling on Israel to cease its war in Gaza, and on Friday, the International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest judicial body, said Israel must take action to prevent acts of genocide by its forces.

Israel has previously accused UNRWA teachers of telling students in its schools to hate Israel, and it has accused UNRWA employees of collaborating with Hamas. The Trump administration suspended funding to the agency in 2018, but President Joe Biden restored it.

In recent weeks, Israel has presented new evidence that it says shows UNRWA’s animus toward Israel. Among the recent allegations made by the Israeli military were copies of letters from Hamas’ military wing to the Gaza Education Ministry asking that teachers be excused from work so they could participate in military training sessions.

Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.Credit: AP

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on Thursday with UN Secretary-General António Guterres and called for “a thorough and swift investigation,” the State Department said. The department also said that it was asking Israel, which initially made the allegation, for more information, and added that “UNRWA plays a critical role in providing lifesaving assistance to Palestinians, including essential food, medicine, shelter and other vital humanitarian support.”

David Satterfield, the US special envoy for humanitarian affairs, led a group of US officials who met with Major General Aharon Haliva of Israel, who showed them the full briefing materials, according to one official who attended the session.

UN leaders have repeatedly urged Israel to do more to limit the harm to civilians and to aid workers in the conflict.

More than 100 UN employees have been killed since the start of the war, the most the world body has suffered in a single conflict.

UN officials have also warned in stark terms that ordinary residents of Gaza are at risk of starvation and are experiencing a spike in infectious diseases as the weather gets colder.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat and vice president of the European Commission, said he was “extremely concerned” about the allegation that UN employees had been involved in the terrorist attacks. He said the commission was in contact with UNRWA and expected it to take immediate measures against the staff members involved.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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