What we know about Israel’s allegations against UN staff in Gaza
The main UN agency in Gaza is in turmoil after Israel accused some of its employees of involvement in Hamas terrorist attacks on October 7.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) expelled a number of its employees following these allegations, which were not announced.
The United States, a major donor to UNRWA, was among several countries to halt funding to the organization in the wake of the allegations, which employs about 13,000 people in Gaza, as the humanitarian catastrophe in the besieged Palestinian enclave escalates.
Here’s what we know.
What is UNRWA?
UNRWA was established by the United Nations after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced Palestinians.
The organization describes Palestinian refugees as any “person whose natural place of residence was Palestine during the period from June 1, 1946, to May 15, 1948, and who lost their home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 War.”
Those who meet this definition The number is now 5.9 million, consisting largely of descendants of the original refugees. Israel has rejected the possibility of allowing displaced Palestinians to return to their homes, arguing that the move would change the country’s Jewish character.
Since its founding, the UN General Assembly – the voting body that includes all Member States – has repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate. The agency has provided assistance to four generations of Palestine refugees, according to its website, covering education, health care, camp infrastructure, social services and emergency assistance, including in times of conflict.
at least 152 UNRWA employees They were killed in Gaza since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, according to the agency.
What are the allegations?
Details are still scant. Neither Israel nor UNRWA specified the nature of the alleged involvement of UNRWA employees in the events of October 7.
An Israeli official told CNN on Friday that Israel has shared information about 12 employees allegedly involved in the October 7 attacks with both UNRWA and the United States.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said he had received “information about the alleged involvement of a number of employees.” To protect the agency’s ability to provide humanitarian assistance in Gaza, he decided to “immediately terminate the contracts of these employees and open an investigation in order to find out the truth,” according to a statement.
He added that any UNRWA employee involved in terrorist acts “will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.”
In a statement issued on Sunday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that nine of the 12 UNRWA employees at the center of the allegations had been fired. Another person died and the identity of two others is still “under clarification.”
“Any UN employee involved in terrorist acts will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution,” Guterres said, adding that an independent review was imminent.
In addition to the alleged staff involvement on October 7, the Israeli military also claimed on Saturday that UNRWA facilities were being used for “terrorist purposes,” in a statement to CNN on Saturday.
In response to a question about the allegation regarding UNRWA facilities, the agency told CNN: “We have no further information on this matter at this stage. The Office of Internal Oversight Services (the UN’s internal oversight body) will look into all these allegations as part of the investigation that the UNRWA Commissioner-General has asked them to conduct.”
In an official statement issued on Saturday, Hamas criticized the decision to terminate employee contracts, and accused Israel of trying to undermine UNRWA and other organizations that provide humanitarian relief in Gaza.
What is the current relationship between Israel and the United Nations?
Israel’s relations with the United Nations have deteriorated to historic lows in recent months. Senior UN officials have strongly criticized Israel’s belligerent behavior in Gaza, which has claimed the lives of more than 26,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run health authority in the Strip. Meanwhile, Israeli diplomats were angered by UN calls for a ceasefire.
In December, Israeli diplomats Criticize When UN Secretary-General António Guterres used a rarely used diplomatic tool to present the conflict to the UN Security Council. In a letter to the 15-member council, Guterres urged the council to “press to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe” and to unite in calling for a full humanitarian ceasefire.
Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan, who said the ceasefire “strengthens Hamas’s control over Gaza,” criticized Guterres for the move, noting that recent wars in Ukraine, Yemen and Syria did not elicit the same response.
UNRWA’s allegations on Friday came on the same day that the UN Supreme Court ordered Israel to take immediate action to prevent genocide in Gaza, although it stopped short of calling for a ceasefire.
UNRWA has long been a target of Israeli criticism. Israel accused the UN agency of incitement against Israel, which UNRWA denies. In 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to dismantle the UN body, saying it should be merged with the main UN refugee agency.
In November, an Israeli journalist claimed on the social media platform This report was taken before Israeli news agenciesWhich prompted the UN agency to issue a statement calling for an “immediate cessation” of publishing “unsubstantiated allegations” about the organization, considering that they amount to “misleading information.”
UNRWA has done so over and over again He denied the allegations That its aid was being diverted to Hamas or that it was teaching hatred in its schools, she questioned “the motives of those who make such allegations.” The agency condemned the Hamas attack on October 7, describing it as “abhorrent.”
How did the world react?
Several Western countries announced the suspension of funding for UNRWA in the wake of these accusations. The US State Department said on Friday that it had “temporarily suspended additional funding” to the agency.
Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Finland and the Netherlands followed suit.
But other countries have announced they plan to continue funding.
Explaining its decision, the Norwegian government said on Saturday: “The situation in Gaza is catastrophic, and UNRWA is the most important humanitarian organization there… International support for Palestine is needed now more than ever.”
Mustafa Barghouthi, Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative, described the decision to stop the funds as “shameful,” stressing that the allegations appeared on the same day. International Court of Justice ruling.
The Palestine Liberation Organization called on the countries that cut funding to “immediately retract their decision.” The Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hassim Al-Sheikh, said that suspending funding “involves major political and relief risks.”
UNRWA Director-General Lazzarini described the funding suspension as “shocking” and urged them to reconsider. He warned that such decisions threaten the humanitarian relief the organization provides to millions of people.
“It would be highly irresponsible to impose sanctions on an agency and the entire community it serves over allegations of criminal acts committed against certain individuals, especially in a time of war, displacement and political crises in the region,” Lazzarini’s statement said.
“UNRWA shares a list of all its staff with host countries every year, including Israel. The agency has never received any concerns about specific staff.
Funding has long been a challenge for UNRWA, and the suspension of funding by key supporters – however brief – raises questions about how the agency will be able to continue to help people in Gaza amid Growing fears of famine.
United State Previously, support was cut off completely UNRWA during the era of Donald Trump before it was restored under Joe Biden.
CNN’s Mitchell McCloskey, Benjamin Brown, Heather Lu, AJ Davis, Ibrahim Hazboun, Rob Edduls, Amir Tal, Akanksha Sharma, Lauren Izzo and Caitlin Ho contributed reporting.
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