What we know about Israel39s allegations against UN workers in

What we know about Israel's allegations against UN workers in Gaza – CNN


The main UN agency in Gaza is in turmoil after Israel accused some of its staff of involvement in the October 7 Hamas terror attacks.

The United Nations Disaster Relief Agency (UNRWA) has fired several employees in the wake of the undisclosed allegations. The United States and several other countries have also stopped funding the organization, which employs around 13,000 people in Gaza, as a humanitarian disaster unfolds in the besieged Palestinian enclave.

In a statement released on Sunday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said nine of the 12 UNRWA staff at the center of the allegations had been fired. Another was dead and the identities of two others were still being “determined.”

“Any UN staff involved in terrorist attacks will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution,” Guterres said, adding that an independent review was forthcoming. However, he called on countries to continue financial support to UNRWA, which supports two million people in the Gaza Strip who need “vital assistance for their daily survival.”

Because of the allegations, nine countries have so far stopped funding the most important UN agency in Gaza.

“The despicable actions of these employees must have consequences,” Guterres said. “But the tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA, many in one of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be punished,” he added. “The urgent needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met.”

Here's what we know.

UNRWA was founded by the United Nations after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War to provide humanitarian assistance to displaced Palestinians.

The organization characterizes Palestinian refugees as all “persons whose habitual residence was Palestine during the period from June 1, 1946 to May 15, 1948, and who lost both their home and their livelihood as a result of the 1948 war.”

The number of those who meet this definition is currently 5.9 million. Israel has rejected the possibility of allowing displaced Palestinians to return to their homeland, arguing that the move would change the Jewish character of the country.

Since its founding, the United Nations General Assembly – a voting body of all member states – has repeatedly renewed UNRWA's mandate. According to its website, the agency has provided assistance to four generations of Palestinian refugees, covering education, health care, camp infrastructure, social services and emergency relief, including during times of conflict.

According to the agency, at least 152 UNRWA staff have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.

Neither Israel nor UNRWA have elaborated on the nature of UNRWA staff's alleged involvement in the events of October 7, nor have they specified the number of staff allegedly involved.

However, an Israeli official told CNN on Friday that Israel had shared information with both UNRWA and the US about 12 personnel allegedly involved in the October 7 attacks.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said he had received “information about the suspected involvement of several staff members.” To protect the agency's ability to provide humanitarian assistance in Gaza, he decided to “immediately terminate the contracts of these employees and launch an investigation to find out the truth,” according to a statement.

Any UNRWA staff involved in terrorist attacks “will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution,” he added.

In addition to the employees' alleged involvement on October 7, the Israel Defense Forces also claimed that UNRWA facilities were being used for “terrorist purposes” in a statement to CNN on Saturday.

“The Intelligence Directorate has put together a case incriminating several UNRWA personnel for their alleged involvement in the massacre, along with evidence indicating the use of UNRWA facilities for terrorist purposes,” the IDF statement said.

Asked about the claim regarding UNRWA facilities, the agency told CNN: “We have no further information on this at this time. “The Office of Internal Oversight Services (the United Nations’ internal watchdog) will investigate all of these allegations as part of the investigation requested by UNRWA’s Commissioner-General.”

In an official statement released on Saturday, Hamas criticized the decision to end the employees' contracts and accused Israel of trying to undermine UNRWA and other organizations providing humanitarian aid in Gaza.

What is the current relationship between Israel and the United Nations?

Israel's relations with the larger UN have sunk to historic lows in recent months. According to the Hamas-run health authority in the area, senior UN officials have been highly critical of Israel's conduct of the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israeli diplomats are angered by UN calls for a ceasefire.

In December, Israeli diplomats lashed out when UN Secretary-General António Guterres used a rarely used diplomatic tool to bring the conflict to the UN Security Council. In a letter to the 15-member council, Guterres called on the body to “urge to avert a humanitarian catastrophe” and unite in calling for a full humanitarian ceasefire.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan, who has argued that a ceasefire “cements Hamas' control over Gaza,” criticized Guterres for the move, pointing out that recent wars in Ukraine, Yemen and… Syria would not have triggered the same reaction.

Friday's UNRWA allegations came on the same day the UN's top court ordered Israel to act immediately to prevent genocide in Gaza, although it did not call for a ceasefire.

UNRWA has long been a target of Israeli criticism. Israel has accused the UN agency of anti-Israel incitement, which UNRWA denies. In 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to dissolve the UN body and called for it to be merged with the main UN refugee agency.

UNRWA has repeatedly denied allegations that its aid is being diverted to Hamas or that it is fomenting hatred in its schools, and has questioned “the motivation of those who make such claims.” The agency condemned the October 7 Hamas attack as “abhorrent.”

Several Western countries have announced that they will stop funding UNRWA in the wake of the allegations. The US State Department said on Friday it had “temporarily paused” providing additional funding to the agency. Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany, among others, followed suit.

Ireland said on Saturday that it had “no plans to suspend funding for UNRWA’s vital Gaza work.” Irish Foreign Minister Micheál Martin tweeted that he had “full confidence” in Lazzarini’s decision to “investigate thoroughly.”

Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands were among the few countries that stopped funding UNRWA in light of the allegations. “Switzerland does not tolerate any support for terrorism or any incitement to hatred or violence,” the Swiss foreign minister said, adding that the country expects “the same” from its partners.

The Norwegian government said on Saturday it would continue financial support for UNRWA pending the outcome of the investigation. “The situation in Gaza is catastrophic and UNRWA is the main humanitarian organization there. Norway continues its support to the Palestinian people through UNRWA. “International support for Palestine is needed now more than ever,” Norway’s representative to the Palestinian Authority posted in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Mustafa Barghouthi, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, called the decision to suspend the funding “shameful,” stressing that the allegations emerged on the same day as the International Court of Justice ruling.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has called on countries cutting funding to “immediately withdraw their decision.” PLO Secretary General Husseim Al-Sheick said the suspension of funding “carries major political risks and aid risks.”

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Friday praised the U.S. decision to stop funding, and Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called on more nations to stop funding UNRWA.

In a statement on Saturday, UNRWA chief Lazzarini called the funding suspension “shocking” and urged them to reconsider. Such decisions jeopardize the organization's humanitarian assistance to millions of people, he warned.

“It would be immensely irresponsible to sanction an agency and an entire community it serves over allegations of criminal acts against some individuals, especially at a time of war, displacement and political crises in the region,” Lazzarini’s statement said.

“UNRWA shares the list of all its staff with host countries, including Israel, every year. At no time has the agency received any concerns regarding specific employees.”

Funding has long been a challenge for UNRWA, and the suspension of funding from key donors – however brief – raises questions about how it can continue to help the people of Gaza amid growing fears of hunger.

The United States is the organization's largest donor. Previously, support was completely cut under Donald Trump's presidency before being restored under Joe Biden.

CNN's Mitchell McCluskey, Benjamin Brown, Heather Law, AJ Davis, Ibrahim Hazboun, Rob Iddiols, Amir Tal, Akanksha Sharma, Lauren Izso and Caitlin Hu contributed to the reporting.