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Israel accuses 190 UN staff of being ‘hardened’ militants

AN Israeli intelligence dossier that prompted a cascade of countries to halt funds for a U.N. Palestinian aid agency includes allegations that some staff took part in abductions and killings during the October 7 raid that sparked the Gaza war.

The six-page dossier, seen by Reuters, alleges that some 190 UNRWA employees, including teachers, have doubled as Hamas or Islamic Jihad militants. It has names and pictures for 11 of them.

The United Nations has not formally received a copy of the dossier, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Monday.

The Palestinians have accused Israel of falsifying information to tarnish UNRWA, which says it has fired some staffers and is investigating the allegations.

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The dossier said one of the 11 is a school counsellor who helped his son abduct a woman during the Hamas infiltration in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 253 kidnapped.

Another, a UNRWA social worker, is accused of unspecified involvement in the transfer to Gaza of a slain Israeli soldier’s corpse and of coordinating the movements of pick-up trucks used by the raiders and of weapons supplies.

A third Palestinian in the dossier is accused of taking part in a rampage in the Israeli border village Beeri, one-tenth of whose residents were killed. A fourth is accused of participating in an attack on Reim, a site both of an army base that was overrun and a rave where more than 360 revellers died.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz said UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini should go. “UNRWA employees participated in the massacre of October 7,” he said. “Lazzarini should draw conclusions and resign.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accused Israel of a “premeditated political attack” on the agency, which it has long criticized, and called for restoration of aid funds.

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The dossier was shown to Reuters by a source who could not be identified by name or nationality. The source said that it had been compiled by Israeli intelligence and shared with the United States, which on Friday suspended funding for UNRWA.

An Israeli official told Reuters the 190 mentioned in the dossier were “hardened fighters, killers” whereas overall some 10% of UNRWA staff were believed to have more general affiliation with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The agency employs 13,000 people in Gaza. More than 10 countries, including major donors the United States and Germany, have halted their funding to the agency.

AID OPERATION JEOPARDIZED

That is a huge problem for an agency that more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians look to for day-to-day assistance, and which has already been hard-stretched by Israel’s war on Hamas in the enclave.

UNRWA said on Monday it would be unable to continue operations in Gaza and across the region beyond the end of February if funding were not resumed.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is due to meet with major UNRWA donors in New York on Tuesday, Dujarric said.

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Guterres spoke on Monday with the leaders of Jordan and Egypt and also met with the head of U.N. internal investigations to ensure that an inquiry into the Israeli accusations “will be done swiftly and as efficiently as possible,” Dujarric said.

Washington would be looking very hard at the steps UNRWA takes in response to the allegations, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a news conference, describing the allegations as “highly credible” and “deeply, deeply troubling.”

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Asked under what circumstances and how soon the U.S. could consider resuming support for UNRWA, Blinken said, “It is imperative that UNRWA immediately, as it said it would, investigate, that it holds people accountable as necessary and that it reviews its procedures.”

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency was set up for refugees of the 1948 war at Israel’s founding in what had been British-ruled Palestine. It also tends to millions of the original refugees’ descendants in Palestinian territories and abroad.

Israel has long accused UNRWA of perpetuating conflict by discouraging resettlement of refugees and on occasions in the past has said agency staff took part in armed attacks.

UNRWA denies wrongdoing, describing its role as relief only.

“From intelligence information, documents and identity cards seized during the course of the fighting, it is now possible to flag around 190 Hamas and PIJ terrorist operatives who serve as UNRWA employees,” the Hebrew-language dossier says.

It accuses Hamas of “methodically and deliberately deploying its terrorist infrastructure in a wide range of U.N. facilities and assets” including schools. Hamas denies that.

Two of the alleged Hamas operatives cited in the dossier are described as “eliminated”, or killed by Israeli forces. A 12th Palestinian whose name and picture are provided is said to have no factional membership and to have infiltrated Israel on Oct. 7.

Also on the list of 12 men are a UNRWA teacher accused of arming himself with an anti-tank rocket, another teacher accused of filming a hostage and the manager of a shop in a UNRWA school accused of opening a war room for Islamic Jihad.

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More than 26,000 people have been killed in Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in Gaza, the enclave’s health ministry said. With flows of aid like food and medicine just a trickle of pre-conflict levels, deaths from preventable diseases as well as the risk of famine are growing, aid workers say.

Most of Gaza’s people have become more reliant on UNRWA aid, including about one million who have fled Israeli bombardments to shelter in its facilities.

“The terrorist organisations are cynically exploiting the residents of the Strip and the international organisations whose mission is to provide aid … and in doing so are causing de facto harm to residents of the Strip,” the dossier said.

At the weekend, Guterres vowed to hold to account any employee involved in “abhorrent” acts but implored nations to keep funding UNRWA for humanitarian reasons.

“The tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA, many in some of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be penalized,” Guterres said on Sunday. “The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met.”

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By DAN WILLIAMS and GABRIELLE TÉTRAULT-FARBER

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