ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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IDF brass was caught off guard by dissemination of UNRWA allegations — report

NYT says Israeli official shared incriminating intel with Palestinian refugee agency head, who alerted US, sparking worries in military over lack of strategy for circulating claims

A Palestinian Hamas supporter holds a placard with the terror group's logo during a protest demanding that UNRWA staff who were fired in the Gaza Strip after allegedly taking part in the October 7 atrocities be returned to their jobs and that countries resume funding of the agency, in front of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, January 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
A Palestinian Hamas supporter holds a placard with the terror group's logo during a protest demanding that UNRWA staff who were fired in the Gaza Strip after allegedly taking part in the October 7 atrocities be returned to their jobs and that countries resume funding of the agency, in front of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, January 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Israeli military intelligence incriminating 12 UNRWA staffers of involvement in the October 7 terror onslaught reportedly reached US officials without the knowledge of IDF leadership, but via the UN agency itself, according to a report Saturday.

Amir Weissbrod, a deputy director general at the Foreign Ministry, brought the intelligence to UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini during a routine meeting on January 18, according to The New York Times. Military officers had provided Weissbrod with the information, the paper reported.

Since the allegations became public late last month, UNRWA, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees, has seen many of its top donor countries announce funding freezes, leading to concerns that the agency could stop operating in Gaza and elsewhere in the Middle East by the end of February.

According to the New York Times, after meeting with Weissbrod, Lazzarini flew to New York to meet with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to discuss the intelligence, which detailed allegations that 12 UNRWA staffers had actively participated in the massacre, including raiding Israeli towns and taking hostages.

On January 24, UNRWA brought US officials up to speed on the allegations, which they had found credible, leading Washington to reach out to Jerusalem for more information on the matter.

The request caught Israeli military leaders completely off guard, unsure how the intelligence had reached the US or UNRWA. The Israel Defense Forces launched an internal inquiry to determine how the intelligence was leaked.

The IDF’s strategy directorate was concerned that the claims had been circulated without a proper strategy, according to the report.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is greeted by UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, during a day of meetings about the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Amman, Jordan, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool photo via AP)

Late on Friday January 26, UNRWA’s Lazzarini announced that “several” employees had been fired over the allegations. Soon after, the US announced that it had frozen funding, followed by a number of other countries.

Many military and government officials — including in the Foreign Ministry — were caught off guard by UNRWA’s announcement as well as those by the US and others suspending donations.

“This matter was not first brought to us by the Government of Israel; it was brought to us by UNRWA itself,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Wednesday. “But I should make very clear our decision to temporarily pause funding was not just based on the strength of Israeli evidence, but it was based on UNRWA’s own conclusion that those allegations were credible.”

Since the announcements were made, the Israeli intelligence has been shared with several news agencies, including allegations that some 10% of the Gaza staff — 1,200 employees — are tied to the Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups.

Israel has long taken issue with UNRWA, alleging that it is deeply embedded with and controlled by Hamas, that its facilities are used for terror activity, that its education system incites against Israel and that it perpetuates the refugee crisis.

However, a senior Israeli official briefing The Times of Israel earlier this week clarified that Jerusalem does not support the agency’s immediate dissolution because it is the main organization providing humanitarian aid in Gaza, preventing a humanitarian crisis that would force the IDF to halt its operations against Hamas.

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)

According to reports, the Israel dossier alleges that a dozen employees of the UN agency took part in the deadly onslaught in which terrorists murdered close to 1,200 Israelis and took another 253 captive in Gaza. The allegations claim 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 on October 7.

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.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called the information “highly, highly credible.”

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