US finds some Israeli claims on UNRWA-Hamas links unlikely

US finds some Israeli claims on UNRWA-Hamas links unlikely
A US intelligence report shows analysts have 'low confidence' in Israel’s claims that a handful of UNRWA staff took part in the 7 October attack.
2 min read
22 February, 2024
Israel has claimed that 10% of UNRWA's staff are connected to Hamas, prompting donors to withdraw funding. (Photo by Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu via Getty Images)

A US intelligence report said it only has "low confidence" that a handful of staff of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) may have taken part in Hamas's 7 October assault on Israel, and could not confirm most of Israel's allegations against the agency.

The US's National Intelligence Council, a group of veteran intelligence analysts, assessed with "low confidence" that a handful of UNRWA staffers participated in the 7 October attacks on southern Israel. The ranking means the claims were found to be credible but could not be confirmed independently.

Far from wholly confirming Israel’s accusations against UNRWA, the US intelligence report highlighted that Israeli bias against the UN aid agency impacted the quality of Israel’s assessments, one anonymous source familiar with the report told the WSJ

The assessment also said that the reality of Hamas’s control in Gaza means that UNRWA has to interact with the group to deliver humanitarian relief, which does not mean that it collaborates with its armed branch.

Israeli intelligence agencies claimed in late January that 10 percent of UNRWA’s 12,000 employees in Gaza had some kind of affiliation with Hamas, and that 12 of its employees were involved in the 7 October attacks.

These claims were not publicly backed by evidence, but they dealt a huge blow to the UN agency as Western donors withdrew funding en masse.

The US and other key Western donors, including the UK, Germany, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Finland, and Australia suspended funding for UNRWA last month following these accusations. Observers have called the response of the Western states an overreaction, as UNRWA employs over 30,000 people, including 13,000 in Gaza.'

UNRWA provides essential life-saving aid to millions of Palestinian refugees across the MENA region, including in Gaza where a man-made famine is looming.

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"The grossly disproportionate decision to suspend funding by some of the largest donor states defies the basic principle of humanity, and goes against states’ commitment to leave no one behind," several UN experts said in a statement.

Following the funding cuts, UNRWA itself has warned that its operations in Gaza could collapse by April. 

Israel’s assault on Gaza has already killed over 29,000 Palestinians and threatens thousands more lives.

UNRWA also provides schooling, healthcare and other social services for more than five million Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

The UNRWA immediately responded to Israel’s accusations by firing the employees Israel allegedly involved in the 7 October attacks and launched an internal probe.