Israel has so far killed 152 UNRWA workers in Gaza, the highest death toll among UN staffers ever, however, the U.S. has failed to call for an immediate probe into the case or mere issuance of condemnation.
The nine out of 12 employees accused by Israel for being allegedly involved in the October 7 attack have the “right of recourse” if findings turn in their favour as the investigations are still ongoing and it was only a preemptive dismissal, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) said.
“They were dismissed upon allegations preemptively. These now-former employees have the right of recourse in case the findings are in their favour,” UNRWA’s spokesperson Tamara Alrifai told Al Jazeera.
Alrifai stressed the stringent recruitment process and security checks on all 13,000 UNRWA staff members, revealing that Israel is regularly provided with a complete list of names from Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.
“Host governments, including Israel, may come back to us with concerns over staff. We have not received concerns from the state of Israel upon their receiving these lists on an annual basis.”
The funds to the agency, which is a crucial lifeline for two million people in Gaza, were cut based on unverified reports of 12 employees who “may have been involved” in the Hamas attack on October 7.
There are 30,000 UNRWA members and Israeli interrogation is accusing only 0.04% of them of unspecified crimes.
On Friday, UNRWA reported the dismissal of several employees and initiated an investigation into Israel’s allegations against some of its staff.
Following this development on Friday, the United States declared a suspension of funding to a 30,000-member UNRWA, citing allegations against 12 employees.
Several Western countries besides the U.S., including Australia, Canada, Italy, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Scotland, also halted their financial support to the agency.
Estonia and Japan on Sunday joined the nine other countries in blocking funds to the refugee agency, whose facilities where displaced Palestinians sought refuge have been repeatedly under relentless Israeli air raids.
Israel has so far killed 152 UNRWA workers in Gaza, the highest death toll among UN staffers ever, however, the U.S. has failed to call for an immediate interrogation into the case or mere issuance of condemnation.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres took a proactive stance, appealing to major donors to reverse the funding freeze on UNRWA during a closed-door meeting with representatives from 35 countries.
Guterres briefed ambassadors on measures taken in response to accusations against the 12 staff members.
Palestine’s UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour disclosed that Guterres urged countries to “reconsider” their decisions, commending Norway and Spain for maintaining their aid.
Separately, the UN’s Undersecretary-General for humanitarian affairs Martin Griffiths issued a stark warning about the repercussions of defunding UNRWA, stating it would lead to the “collapse” of the aid system in Gaza.
He emphasised the “far-reaching consequences” in the occupied Palestinian territories and the broader region.
“The world cannot abandon the people of Gaza,” Griffiths said in a joint statement with other humanitarian organisation leaders on Tuesday.
Washington has “reached out to the Government of Israel to seek more information” regarding the UNRWA staff allegations, with U.S.’ Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield emphasising that funding restoration depends on UNRWA implementing “fundamental changes.”
Her comments came against the backdrop of questions rising about the sources of intelligence, with discrepancies between an Israeli official’s claim of interrogations and The New York Times reporting surveillance.
On Saturday, an Israeli official quoted by Axios claimed, “A lot of the intelligence is a result of interrogations of militants who were arrested during the October 7 attack.”
However, The New York Times on Sunday, citing a “dossier” on Israeli allegations, asserted that the information had been acquired through surveillance methods.
Since October 7, Israeli occupation forces have detained numerous individuals in Gaza, including UN workers. Those released from detention reported instances of physical abuse, verbal mistreatment, forced undressing, and sleep deprivation during Israeli interrogations.
Separately, UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese on Wednesday criticised the suspension of funds to UNRWA as “double standards,” questioning the support for Israel amid allegations of actions that could “plausibly constitute” genocide.
Also on Wednesday, US Congressman Chuy Garcia called for the reversal of the funding freeze, arguing that while the allegations should be investigated, the two million Gazans should not suffer further consequences.