UN agency for Palestinian refugees sacks staff for ‘role in Hamas attack’

U.S. State Department suspects involvement of 12 employees, suspends funding to the agency; relations between Israel and UNRWA had deteriorated recently when the agency said shelling hit a shelter for displaced people in Gaza’s Khan Younis

January 27, 2024 08:53 am | Updated 08:53 am IST

Collateral damage:Palestinians carry the body of a person killed in the bombardment of a UNRWA building in Khan Younis.

Collateral damage:Palestinians carry the body of a person killed in the bombardment of a UNRWA building in Khan Younis. | Photo Credit: AP


The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Friday it had sacked several employees accused by Israel of involvement in Hamas’s October 7 attack, prompting the United States to suspend critical funding.

The head of the agency, Philippe Lazzarini, vowed to hold “accountable, including through criminal prosecution” any UNRWA employee found to have taken part in acts of terror.

Call for review

In response to the firings, UN chief Antonio Guterres pledged to conduct an “urgent and comprehensive independent review of UNRWA”, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The U.S. State Department said it had “temporarily paused additional funding” to the agency while it reviewed the claims as well as the UN’s plan to address concerns.

Twelve employees “may have been involved”, it added.

Relations between Israel and UNRWA deteriorated further in recent days, when the UN agency said tank shelling hit a shelter for displaced people in Gaza’s main southern city of Khan Younis.

The agency said tens of thousands of displaced people had been registered at the shelter and Wednesday’s tank shelling killed 13 persons.

Asked about the incident, the Israeli Army said “a thorough review of the operations of the forces in the vicinity is underway”, adding it was examining the possibility that the strike was a “result of Hamas fire”.

Disregard for rules

Mr. Lazzarini slammed Wednesday’s bombardment as a “blatant disregard of basic rules of war”, with the compound clearly marked as a UN facility and its coordinates shared with Israeli authorities.

The Israeli Army is the only force known to have tanks operating in the Gaza Strip.

UNRWA has struggled to meet funding requirements in recent years.

The agency’s chronic budget shortfalls worsened dramatically in 2018 when former U.S. President Donald Trump cut support to the agency.

But U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has fully restored support, providing $340 million in 2022, making it the agency’s largest donor.

The unprecedented October 7 Hamas attack resulted in the death of around 1,140 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

At least 26,083 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip in Israeli bombardments and ground offensive since then.

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