Israel yet to offer proof UN staff in Gaza have ties to Hamas

Israel has yet to provide evidence that workers for the United Nations relief agency in the Gaza Strip have widespread ties to terrorist groups, according to the results of an external probe.

The UN-commissioned investigation found “neutrality-related issues persist” at the UN Relief and Works Agency, including cases where facilities were “misused for political or military gains,” according to a report released Monday. But the inquiry didn’t come to any conclusions on Israeli claims that as much as 10% of the relief agency’s 12,000 workers were members of the militant groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

“Israel made public claims that a significant number of UNRWA employees are members of terrorist organizations,” wrote the review team, led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna. “However, Israel has yet to provide supporting evidence of this.” 

The inquiry is separate from a UN investigation that’s looking into Israeli claims that several UNRWA employee participated in the Oct. 7 assault by Hamas on Israel that killed some 1,200 people. The UN has dismissed at least nine UNRWA workers over that claim.

UNRWA serves some 2 million Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and has been the main conduit for aid in Gaza since Israel launched a military campaign there to eradicate Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by the US and the European Union. An estimated 32,000 Palestinians have been killed, including nearly 200 UNRWA staff, according to the Hamas-run health authorities and the UN.

The review found that Hamas — which governed the Gaza Strip before Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attack — made eight incursions into UNRWA facilities in 2022. The report pointed out that the agency “does not have policing, military or wider investigative capacities or competencies required to detect such breaches.” It recommended the UN strengthens collaboration with countries including Israel on the misuse of facilities.

After the release of the report, Oren Marmorstein, a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said in a post on X that “this is not what a genuine and thorough review looks like. This is what an effort to avoid the problem and not address it head on looks like.” 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the findings and tasked UNRWA with establishing a plan to address the recommendations included in the report, spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement Monday. He said UNRWA is the “lifeline” for Palestinians in Gaza amid the war. –BLOOMBERG