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United Nations spox insists ‘UNRWA does not work with Hamas’ despite claims employees participated in Oct. 7

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A spokesman for the United Nations insisted Tuesday that UNRWA, facing allegations that at least a dozen of its employees participated in the Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel, 'does not work with Hamas.' 

The remarks came from Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, during a press briefing when a reporter asked whether Guterres is planning to ask for a broader investigation of UNRWA's employees' affiliation with Hamas. The reporter noted how it's estimated, according to one intelligence report, that up to 10% of the 13,000 UNRWA employees working in Gaza are affiliated with Hamas. 'Is he asking for a more intensive examination of the vetting procedures?' the reporter asked. 

Dujarric responded by noting how Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, 'himself has said UNRWA would commission an independent review of its work to look at risk, to look at how it does its operations.'

'So that's something they themselves want to do, while I think in any context I don't know how you examine people's thoughts. Right?' Dujarric said. 'What is clear is that any action that contravenes the U.N., U.N. principles, that violates our rules is dealt with. And I think Mr. Lazzarini did it. Furthermore, I think it's also important to clarify something. Every year, UNRWA shares its list of staff with the host countries where it works. Right? So UNRWA works in Jordan, works in Lebanon, works in Syria.'

'For the work that it does in Gaza and the West Bank,' he said, UNRWA 'shares the list of staff with both the Palestinian Authority and with the Israeli government as the occupying power for those areas. And as far as I'm told by UNRWA, concerns have not been raised when the list of staff has been shared.' 

'But have they shared this list with the de facto power in charge in Gaza, which would be Hamas? And then they asked Hamas for a list of their own members?' the reporter pressed back, arguing that the terror organization would be unlikely to release that information. 

'I think you can imagine the answer to the scenario which you're laying out. Our counterpart for the occupied Palestinian territory is the Palestinian Authority,' Dujarric said. 

The reporter interjected, saying, 'But UNRWA works with Hamas.' 

'UNRWA does not. I don't agree with the terminology. UNRWA does not work with Hamas. We have operational contacts with de facto authorities like we do in every other place in the world where they are de facto authorities,' Dujarric responded, before moving onto other reporters' questions. 

The exchange comes amid Israel’s allegations that 12 UNRWA employees were involved in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, which led the United States and several other countries to cut off funding for the agency and reignited debate over Gaza’s biggest humanitarian aid provider. 

In Gaza, UNRWA employs thousands of staffers to provide aid across the Middle East, and has been the main supplier of food, water and shelter to civilians during the Israel-Hamas war. 

Israel, whose allegations were detailed in a document provided to the Biden administration Monday, has long railed against the agency, accusing it of tolerating or even collaborating with Hamas and of perpetuating the situation of Palestinian refugees.

The Israeli government has accused Hamas and other militant groups of siphoning off aid and using U.N. facilities for military purposes.

UNRWA denies those allegations and says it took swift action against the employees accused of taking part in the attack. The United States and other top donors that together provided more than half of UNRWA’s budget in 2022, nevertheless suspended their funding to the agency. Guterres says 2 million Palestinians in Gaza, or 87% of the population, rely on UNRWA services that would be scaled back as soon as February if the money is not restored.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 


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