UN Agency Sacks Staff Over Alleged Role In October 7 Israel Attacks

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.

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 US 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.

Israel's foreign ministry said Friday it was "expecting an urgent investigation of UNRWA on the involvement of its employees in the terror attack of October 7."

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, said the sackings proved long-standing claims that "UNRWA employees are collaborators of the terrorist organization Hamas".

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 Yunis.

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

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".

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.

An UNRWA spokeswoman confirmed testimony from displaced people in the shelter who said the army gave them until 5:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Friday to flee.

AFP was not able to confirm the situation on Friday at the shelter.

- Funding woes -

UNRWA has struggled to meet funding requirements in recent years.

The agency's chronic budget shortfalls worsened dramatically in 2018 when former US president Donald Trump cut support to the agency.

The Trump administration branded UNRWA "irredeemably flawed", siding with Israeli criticisms of the agency founded in 1949, a year after Israel's creation.

But US 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.

Militants also seized about 250 hostages and Israel says around 132 of them remain in Gaza, including the bodies of at least 28 dead captives.

At least 26,083 Palestinians, around 70 percent of them women, young children and adolescents, have been killed in the Gaza Strip in Israeli bombardments and ground offensive since then, according to the Hamas government's health ministry.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)


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