UNRWA chief dismisses Israel's claims of Hamas 'data centre' under Gaza HQ

UNRWA chief dismisses Israel's claims of Hamas 'data centre' under Gaza HQ
The fresh claims come on top of previous Israeli allegations against UNRWA, which has prompted two investigations and halted international funding.
3 min read
11 February, 2024
UNRWA is the largest aid organisation in the Gaza Strip and has been described by the US as having an indispensable role in assisting to relieve Gaza's humanitarian crisis [Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images]

The Commissioner General of the UN's agency for Palestine refugee's (UNRWA) has dismissed Israeli allegations that the agency's headquarters in Gaza City housed a Hamas "data centre" underneath it.

Philippe Lazzarini took to X to address the allegations, saying that the agency was made aware of the claims through media reports, noting that Israel has not informed UNRWA about the claims.

"In times of 'no active conflict' UNRWA inspects inside its premises every quarter, the last inspection for the UNRWA Gaza premises was completed in September 2023," Lazzarini said.

"In the past, whenever suspicious cavity was found close to or under UNRWA premises, protest letters were promptly filed to parties to the conflict, including both the de facto authorities in Gaza (Hamas) and the Israeli authorities. The matter was consistently reported in annual reports presented to the General Assembly and made public."

He added that while the agency does not have the capabilities to undertake inspections underneath its premises, he said that Israel's allegations would need an inquiry.

"UNRWA is a Human development and humanitarian organisation that does not have the military and security expertise nor the capacity to undertake military inspections of what is or might be under its premises," he added.

Lazzarini's comments come following a Times of Israel report that the Israeli military had reportedly "found" a Hamas "data centre", which it said was part of Hamas' intelligence services underneath the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City.

The report also saw Israeli soldiers extend claims against UNRWA, alleging that staff knew of the tunnel, that the agency was providing funds to build up Hamas' military capabilities, and that the agency had something to hide.

The latest claims against the UN agency come on top of previous Israeli claims that 12 agency staff were involved in the Hamas attacks of 7 October, an allegation that has led to around a dozen countries, including the US, Germany and UK, suspending funding for the organisation.

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The allegations also reportedly have inconsistencies, with Sky News receiving a document that details six, rather than 12, UNRWA personnel were involved. Channel 4 also reported that Israel gave no evidence in the dossier containing the allegations which led to the suspension of funding from donor countries.

The allegations prompted two UN-led investigations into the agency, including one directly addressing Israel's claims and another focused on the conduct of the agency itself.

The suspension of funding that followed the allegations has put the agency in a heavy funding shortfall, with agency officials warning that UNRWA will have to suspend its operations, which include programs in the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, by early March.

Palestinian activists have argued that the suspension of funding to the agency is "complicity in genocide" as the action runs counter to an International Court of Justice provisional measure demanding greater levels of aid to enter the Gaza Strip.

The potential collapse of UNRWA, which has unofficially been listed for a Nobel Peace Prize, comes amid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with UN agencies warning of famine and the spread of preventable disease due to Israel's war on the enclave.

Since 7 October Israel has killed 28,176 Palestinians, with a further 67,784 injured, according to Gaza's health authorities.