Israel has provided no evidence for Hamas-UNRWA link claims: head

Israel has provided no evidence for Hamas-UNRWA link claims: head
The head of the UN's Palestinian refugee agency says Israel has failed to provide evidence backing its claims that the organisation employs members of Hamas.
3 min read
05 February, 2024
Donor countries have suspended funding to UNRWA, threatening the agency's operations [Getty]

Israel has provided no evidence to back its claims that workers from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians in the Near East (UNRWA) are Hamas members, its head has told The Financial Times.

Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini said there was still no proof to back Israeli claims that some UNRWA staff took part in Hamas' 7 October attacks in southern Israel, which saw a number of Western countries suspend aid to the agency.

Lazzarini defied Israeli calls for his resignation, saying he would stay in his post for as long as needed to help struggling Palestinians.

Gaza has been thrust into its worst humanitarian disaster in living memory with millions reliant on UN aid amid the risk of disease and famine.

Israel has claimed that at least six members of the agency's staff participated in the 7 October attack on Israel, though it originally levelled allegations at 12 employees.

UNRWA has 13,000 employees in the enclave, meaning that even if all allegations are accurate, they represent less than 0.01 percent of its Gaza staff.

The US, Australia, Canada, Italy, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the UK, and the Scottish government have suspended funding to UNRWA, despite the dire situation in Gaza with almost the whole population displaced and living in makeshift camps.

The United Nations opened a probe and sacked a number of the employees facing allegations. The rest were either killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza or are currently having their identities confirmed, according to reports from late last month.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted on 29 January that claims about UNRWA employees had yet to be "fully borne out".

The accusations prompted more than a dozen donor countries to cut off funding, dealing a huge blow to the agency and threatening its ability to continue operating.

On Sunday, Israeli Bank Luemi reportedly told UNRWA that it is blocking their bank account over the allegations.

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Lazzarini told The Financial Times he would travel to oil-rich Gulf states to help secure some funding given the critical support stopped from some of UNRWA's biggest donors.

He previously warned that UNRWA could be forced to halt desperately needed aid to Palestinians by the end of February.

As well as Gaza and the occupied Palestinian territories, UNRWA operates in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, which host large numbers of Palestinian refugees.

Hamas said it conducted the 7 October attack - which killed around 1,100 Israelis - in response to Israel’s 16-year blockade of the Gaza Strip and decades of Israeli aggression against the Palestinians.

Since then, Israel’s relentless air and ground offensive has killed over 27,000 people in the besieged Gaza Strip, most of them civilians. The bombardment has rendered much of the territory uninhabitable.