The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a UN body providing aid for Palestinian refugees, announced on Friday it has launched an investigation into suspicions alleging some of its employees were involved in Hamas’ murderous attack on Israel on October 7.
The agency said in a statement that it has severed ties with those employees. This development has garnered attention worldwide, with the United States announcing it is pausing additional funding for UNRWA at this time while the allegations are under review.
"The Israeli authorities have provided UNRWA with information about the alleged involvement of several UNRWA employees in the horrific attacks on Israel on October 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.
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 October 7 attacks be terminated immediately and referred for potential criminal prosecution.
The U.S. State Department said it was extremely troubled by the allegations, which it said pertained to 12 UNRWA employees who allegedly participated in Hamas’ massacre. It said it would provide no additional funding to the agency until the allegations were addressed.
“Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on January 25 to emphasize the necessity of a thorough and swift investigation of this matter,” the statement read.
"The Department of State has temporarily paused additional funding for UNRWA while we review these allegations and the steps the United Nations is taking to address them," U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also addressed the allegations against UNRWA, saying in a statement, “We are extremely concerned by allegations of UNRWA staff involvement in the 7th October terrorist attacks in Israel. The EU reiterates its strongest condemnation of the attacks by the Hamas terrorists against Israel, which have no justification.”
“UNRWA has been playing a vital role over many years supporting vulnerable Palestinian refugees in accessing vital services such as education and health, and is a crucial partner of the international community, including the EU,” the statement added.
“We are in contact with UNRWA, expect it to provide full transparency on the allegations and to take immediate measures against staff involved. The Commission will assess further steps and draw lessons based on the result of the full and comprehensive investigation.”
Israel's Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan also commented on the allegations, saying, "How symbolic it is that on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, what we’ve been claiming for years — that UNRWA employees are cooperating with the Hamas terrorist organization and that the UN has become a place where Israel is delegitimized — has been proven true.”