Sky News has seen Israeli intelligence documents that Israel claims is evidence that staff working for a UN agency were connected with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The report, which has been shared with foreign governments, alleges that six employees of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) infiltrated Israel. Four of them were allegedly involved in kidnapping Israelis, while another worker is said to have provided “logistics support”.
Further claims include accusations that “out of approx. 12,000 UNRWA employees in GS [Gaza Strip], about 10% are Hamas/PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] operatives and about 50% are first-degree relatives with a Hamas operative”.
Critics of Israel’s actions say the number of staff allegedly involved is a tiny percentage of the agency’s overall workforce, and the decision by governments to suspend funding in response to the claims is a cruel and disproportionate move.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said it was “outraged” at foreign governments for pausing donations.
It said in a statement: “We are shocked by the reckless decision to cut a lifeline for an entire population by some of the very countries that had called for aid in Gaza to be stepped up and for humanitarians to be protected while doing their job.”
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The Israeli intelligence report also claims UNRWA is forced “to act under the authorisation and supervision of Hamas” and “it appears that UNRWA is assisting Hamas with securing humanitarian aid that is transferred to GS”.
It adds: “Following Hamas’s request, during Swords of Iron [the Israeli name for its military action in Gaza], UNRWA transferred fuel to north GS.”
Israel has long claimed that Hamas fighters have used UNWRA facilities to hide and store weapons, including in schools and hospitals, and dug tunnels under the agency’s buildings, sometimes with its knowledge.
UNRWA was established in 1949 to provide assistance and protection for Palestinian refugees. It is funded almost entirely by voluntary donations.
In practice, the agency runs schools, health services and refugee camps – but not just in Gaza. It also operates in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as parts of Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
It provides education to more than 544,000 children across 706 schools, hundreds of millions of dollars in loans for small businesses and job creation, and healthcare support for more than seven million visits by patients every year.
They will all be affected by the suspension of funding, which critics have described as a form of “collective punishment”.
The Israeli intelligence documents make several claims that Sky News has not seen proof of and many of the claims, even if true, do not directly implicate UNRWA.
Following the allegations, a number of countries, including the US, UK, Germany, Japan, and Australia, suspended funding to the agency pending further investigation.
‘Death sentence for millions’
Responding to the developments, UNRWA’s commissioner general Phillippe Lazzarini said last week he had immediately terminated the contracts of the accused staff and ordered an investigation.
He said: “Any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.
“UNRWA reiterates its condemnation in the strongest possible terms of the abhorrent attacks of 7 October and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all Israeli hostages and their safe return to their families.”
UNRWA also said it shares the list of all its staff with host countries every year, including Israel.
“The agency never received any concerns on specific staff members,” it added.
The move to cut funding has been severely criticised by other aid organisations. Action Aid said it “spells a death sentence for millions of Palestinians in Gaza and the surrounding regions.”
UNRWA has paid a heavy price during the war – 152 of its staff have been killed in Gaza and 145 of its facilities have been damaged.