TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — An Israeli intelligence document shared with CBS News and a number of other Western news outlets on Monday contains allegations against a dozen U.N. employees who Israel says were involved in Hamas' Oct. 7 terror attack . The document alleges that seven personnel from UNRWA, the U.N. humanitarian agency that helps Palestinian refugees, stormed Israeli territory during that attack, including two who were involved in kidnappings.
The allegations against UNRWA staff prompted the United States and some other Western countries to freeze funds vital to the organization's work, which is a lifeline for desperate Palestinians in the war-torn Gaza Strip. The UN fired nine of the 12 accused workers and condemned “the abhorrent alleged acts” of the employees.
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The allegations come after years of tension between Israel and UNRWA over its work in Gaza, where UNRWA employs about 13,000 people.
The US and other nations stop funding UNRWA
Despite the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the besieged area – where Israel's war against Hamas has displaced the vast majority of the population and officials say a quarter of Palestinians are starving – major donors including the US and Britain have provided temporary funding set. On Monday, Japan and Austria joined the pause in aid.
Palestinians collect drinking water provided by the United Nations amid acute shortages of food, clean water and medicine during Israel's ongoing war with Hamas in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, January 29, 2024. Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu/Getty
With most of its budget in doubt, UNRWA said it would be forced to halt operations within weeks if funding was not restored.
The threat to the U.N. agency came as Israel said ceasefire talks held in Paris on Sunday, attended by CIA chief William Burns along with his Israeli counterpart and senior officials from Egypt and Qatar, were constructive but continued to be so There are “significant gaps” in every possible agreement.
The talks aim to bring some calm to the war-torn Gaza Strip and secure the release of the more than 130 hostages still held in the area.
The fighting continued, making it even more difficult to help the war-weary people of Gaza. Israel issued an evacuation order for residents in the western part of Gaza City and urged them to move south. The order indicated that fighting was still taking place in the northern Gaza Strip, an area that Israel hit in the early weeks of the war and where it had previously said it was in military control.
On the ground in Gaza as the war between Israel and Hamas rages on
The Israeli offensive in Gaza has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, most of them women and minors, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled enclave. The ministry does not distinguish between civilian and combatant deaths in its count.
The war also threatened to spark a wider regional conflict, with the US announcing over the weekend that three of its soldiers were killed in an attack attributed to Iranian-backed militias in Jordan.
Details of the allegations against UNRWA staff in Gaza
The Israeli document, provided to U.S. officials and obtained by CBS News on Monday, lists 12 people, their alleged roles in the attack, job descriptions and photos.
The document said intelligence revealed that at least 190 UNRWA staff also worked as Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives, without providing evidence. Of the twelve workers, nine are teachers and one is a social worker. Seven of the employees were accused of entering Israel on October 7th. Of them, two are said to have kidnapped or helped kidnap Israelis, and two others are said to have taken part in raids on communal farming villages, the document said.
One was accused of arming himself with an anti-tank missile the night before the attack, while the document claimed another took photos of a female hostage.
Some were accused of “participating in terrorist activity” or coordinating the movement of trucks or weapons used in the attack. Ten people were linked to Hamas and one to the militant group Islamic Jihad.
The names and photos of the accused workers could not immediately be verified. Two of the 12 were killed, according to the document. The UN had previously said one was still being identified.
UNRWA's funding, mandate and tensions with Israel
The allegations have inflamed long-standing tensions between Israel and UNRWA. Israel says Hamas uses the agency's facilities to store weapons or launch attacks from there. UNRWA says it does not knowingly tolerate such behavior and has internal safeguards in place to prevent abuse and discipline any misconduct.
The agency's commissioner, Philippe Lazzarini, recently announced that he would order an external review of the agency's operations and its security arrangements.
Israel has long been critical of the agency, accusing it of helping perpetuate the 76-year-old Palestinian refugee crisis.
Jonathan Conricus, a former Israel Defense Forces spokesman who is now a senior fellow at the U.S. think tank The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told CBS News correspondent Pamela Falk on Monday that he believes UNRWA is “an obstacle to peace and an obstacle to peace” is a corrupt organization that facilitates Hamas’ continued rule over Gaza and its terrorist activities against Israel.”
He said the agency “has no future and should be dismantled responsibly for the benefit of Palestinians and Israelis.”
UNRWA says it is addressing the enormous needs of millions of Palestinians in the Middle East, greatly exacerbated by the recent war.
Palestinians walk past the entrance of a UNWRA school used as shelter in Gaza City, amid Israel's ongoing war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. OMAR EL-QATTAA/AFP/Getty
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on donors on Sunday to resume funding and said UNRWA should not be punished for the alleged actions of the dozen workers.
The United States, the agency's largest donor, cut funding over the weekend, followed by several other countries. Together they provided more than 60% of UNRWA's budget in 2022.
UNRWA provides essential services to Palestinian families who fled or were displaced from what is now Israel during the war over the country's creation in 1948. Refugees and their descendants make up the majority of Gaza's population.
Since the start of the war, most of the territory's 2.3 million people have relied on the agency's programs for their “bare survival,” including food and shelter, Lazzarini said.
A quarter of Gaza's population faces starvation as fighting and Israeli restrictions hamper the delivery of aid, which was well below the daily average of 500 trucks before the war.
Communications director Juliette Touma warned that the agency would be forced to end its support in Gaza by the end of February.
Israel and Hamas at war