UN gives update on 19 staff accused by Israel of Oct. 7 involvement

By Thomson Reuters Apr 26, 2024 | 11:37 AM

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.N. investigators examining Israeli accusations that 12 staff from the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA took part in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks have closed one case due to a lack of evidence from Israel and suspended three more, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Friday.

He said the inquiry by the Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) continues into the remaining eight cases.

In the closed case, Dujarric said “no evidence was provided by Israel to support the allegations against the staff member” and that the U.N. is “exploring corrective administrative action to be taken in that person’s case.”

He said three cases were suspended “as the information provided by Israel is not sufficient for OIOS to proceed with an investigation.” He said UNRWA is considering what administrative action to take.

After an initial 12 cases were raised by the Israeli government in late January, a further seven cases were brought to the attention of the United Nations in March and April, Dujarric said. One of those cases was suspended pending receipt of additional supporting evidence, he said, and the remaining six investigations continue.

UNRWA provides education, health and aid to millions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described the agency as “the backbone of all humanitarian response in Gaza” and pledged to act immediately on any new information from Israel related to “infiltration of Hamas” among its workers.

The accusations became public in January when UNRWA, which employs some 13,000 people in Gaza, announced that it had fired some staff and been briefed by Israel. Of the initial 12 accused by Israel, UNRWA fired 10 people and said the remaining two are dead. It was not immediately clear how they died.

OIOS immediately began its investigation into the accusations against the dozen staff, and the United Nations separately appointed former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna in February to lead a review of UNRWA’s ability to ensure neutrality and respond to allegations of breaches.

Colonna’s findings were released on Monday and noted that UNRWA has “a more developed approach” to neutrality than other similar U.N. or aid groups. “Despite this robust framework, neutrality-related issues persist,” her report found.

Israel’s allegations against the dozen UNRWA staff led 16 states to pause or suspend funding of $450 million to UNRWA, a blow to an agency grappling with the humanitarian crisis that has swept Gaza since Israel launched its offensive there.

UNRWA said 10 of those countries had resumed funding, but the United States, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Lithuania had not. A U.N. spokesperson said UNRWA currently had enough funding to pay for operations until June.

After the U.S., UNRWA’s biggest donor at $300-400 million a year, paused funding, the U.S. Congress then suspended contributions until at least March 2025.

Israel says about 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 people taken hostage in the Oct. 7 attacks. Gaza health authorities say Israel has killed 34,000 people in its offensive in the enclave since then.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Daniel Wallis)