UN investigators probe 14 Gaza aid staffers Israel had tied to Hamas' Oct. 7 attack

FILE - Palestinian children who fled with their parents from their houses in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh, gather in the backyard of an UNRWA school, in Sidon, Lebanon, Sept. 12, 2023. An independent review released Monday, April 22, 2024, of the neutrality of UNRWA, the U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees, has found that Israel never expressed concern about anyone on the staff lists it has received annually since 2011. The review was carried out after Israel alleged that a dozen employees of the agency had participated in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari, File)

By EDITH M. LEDERER Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. investigators are looking into allegations against 14 of the 19 staffers from the U.N. relief agency for Palestinians who Israel claims were involved in the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants that spurred the latest war in Gaza, a spokesman said Friday.

The announcement by U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric provided the first information on the investigation ordered by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. The U.N.’s internal watchdog — the Office of Internal Oversight Services — is carrying out the probe following Israel’s initial allegations in January.

The watchdog, known as the OIOS, reported that of the 19 allegations against UNRWA agency staffers, one case was closed because Israel provided no evidence and four others were suspended for lack of sufficient evidence, Dujarric said.

The United Nations was informed in January of Israeli allegations that 12 employees of the agency known as UNRWA had taken part in the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, when Hamas and other Palestinian militants killed about 1,200 people and seized some 250 as hostages.

The agency had at the time terminated the contracts of all those employees.

Dujarric said the U.N. later received additional allegations from Israel about seven UNRWA staffers — five in March and two in April.

A separate, independent review of UNRWA’s neutrality. led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna was released on Monday. It said Israel had never before expressed concerns about anyone on the staff lists that UNRWA had given Israel every year since 2011.

UNRWA has 32,000 staff in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinian territories, including 13,000 in Gaza who provide education, health care, food and other services to several million Palestinians and their families.

The agency’s head, Philippe Lazzarini, said Tuesday that nearly 180 UNRWA staffers have been killed during the Israeli offensive in Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, around two-thirds of them children and women, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and fighters.

Israel’s original allegations led to the suspension of contributions to UNRWA by the United States, its biggest donor, and more than a dozen other countries, causing a pause in funding worth about $450 million, according to Colonna’s report.

A number of countries have since resumed contributions, but the U.S. Congress has suspended any money for the agency until March 2025.

Dujarric on Friday reiterated Guterres’ appeal to donors to support UNRWA generously. Lazzarini, the agency’s commissioner general, says UNRWA has enough money to operate only through June. Dujarric pointed out that UNRWA had released the original information about the Israeli allegations and called for the independent review of its neutrality.

Colonna’s 48-page report said UNRWA has “robust” procedures to uphold the U.N. principle of neutrality but cited serious gaps in implementation. It made 50 recommendations to improve UNRWA’s neutrality, which Guterres and Lazzarini have pledged to implement.

Dujarric said OIOS has not given any indication when its investigation of the 14 staffers would be completed, not did he elaborate on the allegations. He told reporters that OIOS investigators had met with Israeli authorities and would visit again in May.

“These discussions are continuing and … have enabled progress on the investigations,” he said.

Of the 12 initial cases, eight remain under investigation, he said. Three cases have been suspended and one staffer has been cleared. U.N. “is exploring corrective administration action,” Dujarric said.

UNRWA’s Lazzarini said on Tuesday that anyone cleared by OIOS would be reinstated.

Of the seven additional cases brought to the U.N.’s attention after January, Dujarric said six remain under investigation and one has been suspended pending additional information.


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