UN agency probes staff suspected of role in Oct 7 attacks on Israel

UNRWA Commissioner General did not disclose the number of employees allegedly involved in the attacks, nor the nature of their alleged involvement

Reuters
Published : 26 Jan 2024, 03:27 PM
Updated : 26 Jan 2024, 03:27 PM

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 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."

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 detail on the situation.

UN CHIEF 'HORRIFIED'

Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, has been briefed about the allegations, his spokesperson said.

"The Secretary-General is horrified by this news," said spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric.

Dujarric added that 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 added.

UNRWA, established in 1949 following the first Arab-Israeli war, provides services including schooling, primary healthcare and humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

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 1,200 people were killed and 253 taken hostage.

"These shocking allegations come as more than 2 million people in Gaza depend on lifesaving assistance that the agency has been providing since the war began," Lazzarini said.

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.

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.

The diplomatic missions of the United States, Germany and the European Union in Geneva had no immediate comment.