US cautions against ‘impugning’ UNRWA over allegations

Blinken says evidence of UNRWA staffers’ Oct. 7 involvement ‘highly, highly credible’

News outlets publish photos of UN staffers implicated in Israeli dossier; New Zealand pauses funding over ‘incredibly serious’ allegations; Israel cancels meetings with UNRWA head

The 12 staffers at UNRWA alleged to have been involved in the October 7 onslaught. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
The 12 staffers at UNRWA alleged to have been involved in the October 7 onslaught. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The evidence provided by Israel alleging that roughly a dozen UNRWA staffers participated in Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught is “highly credible,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday, as media outlets published additional details on the implicated employees, including photos from an Israeli dossier.

“We haven’t had the ability to investigate [the allegations] ourselves. But they are highly, highly credible,” Blinken said during a press conference.

Blinken stressed that the UN agency for Palestinian refugees plays an “indispensable” role in providing assistance to civilians in the Gaza Strip and that “no one else can play the role that UNRWA has been playing, certainly not in the near term.”

This highlights the “imperative” for UNRWA to carry out an immediate investigation and to address the allegations “as thoroughly as possible,” Blinken said.

As further allegations swirled in local and international media about deeper links between the UN agency and Gaza terror groups, Channel 12 news on Monday night revealed additional details about the 12 UNRWA employees accused of taking part in the October 7 massacre, including their photos.

Apparently citing the same dossier quoted by international news outlets and agencies in recent days, Channel 12 reported that one of the 12 men implicated was an UNRWA teacher accused of being armed with an anti-tank missile, while another teacher had been accused of filming a hostage being taken captive during the onslaught.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the State Department in Washington, DC, on January 29, 2024. (Photo by Mandel NGAN / AFP)

Another of the staffers, also an elementary school teacher, allegedly served as a Hamas commander and participated in the massacre in Kibbutz Be’eri, while a man employed by UNRWA as a social worker was allegedly involved in the kidnapping of an IDF soldier’s body on that day.

Of the 12 UNRWA workers accused of participating in the October 7 massacre, seven were reportedly teachers, two were educational consultants and others were humanitarian aid warehouse managers.

Also Monday, New Zealand joined a slew of nations suspending funding to the UN agency pending an investigation into the claims.

The United States along with France, Britain, Germany and Japan announced the suspension of further funding to the UN agency for Palestinians even though it sacked “several” employees accused by Israel of involvement in Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern communities.

“The allegations are incredibly serious. It’s important they are properly understood and investigated,” New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon told reporters on Monday when he announced Wellington would not “be making any further contributions” to UNRWA.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met earlier Monday with the head of internal UN investigations to ensure that the inquiry into accusations that UNRWA staff took part in Hamas’s October 7 massacre “will be done swiftly and as efficiently as possible,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

In Israel, Foreign Minister Israel Katz announced that he had canceled meetings planned for this week between ministry officials and UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini.

“UNRWA employees participated in the massacre of October 7,” Katz wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Lazzarini should draw conclusions and resign. Supporters of terrorism are not welcome here.”

Destroyed houses are seen in Kibbutz Be’eri, Dec. 20, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

The October 7 attack saw some 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border into Israel from Gaza by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages of all ages — mostly civilians — under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 360 people were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality and sexual assault by the terrorists.

Vowing to destroy the terror group and return the hostages, Israel launched a wide-scale military campaign, which the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says has left over 26,000 people dead. These figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 9,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

On top of the death toll, the UN estimates that more than 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have been displaced as a result of the campaign.

Despite suspending funding for UNRWA, the White House cautioned against dismissing the entire UN agency over the allegations. “Let’s not impugn the good work of a whole agency because of the potential bad actions here by a small number,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said during a press briefing on Monday, clarifying that he was not dismissing the seriousness of the allegations against UNRWA’s employees.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington on January 11, 2024. (Saul Loeb/ AFP)

Asked whether the US will consider resuming funding to the agency after the administration announced a suspension on Friday, Kirby said it would depend on the results of UNRWA’s investigation.

“We understand that [UNRWA is] very dependent on donor contributions, and the United States has been a leading donor for many years… All the more reason that this investigation needs to be credible, transparent, thorough and timely,” he said.

UNRWA said it has acted promptly over the allegations, but that cuts in funding will affect ordinary Palestinians.

The accusations against UNRWA are the latest in a long line of Israeli complaints about the UN agency, including that it allows anti-Israeli incitement to be taught in its hundreds of schools and that some of its staff collaborate with Hamas. The Trump administration suspended funding to the agency in 2018, but US President Joe Biden restored it.

The Commissioner-General of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the UNRWA headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, December 6, 2023. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

Last week, Lazzarini said he would appoint an independent entity to look into the claims — both “what is true or untrue” and “what is politically motivated.”

There are today 58 designated refugee camps where UNRWA operates, in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Unlike most war refugees around the world, the agency recognizes as refugees descendants of those displaced in 1948 amid Israel’s War of Independence, regardless of their circumstances.

Critics allege this has fostered a decades-long culture of dependence and victimhood among Palestinians.

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