Israeli intelligence docs detail alleged UNRWA staff links to Hamas, including 12 accused in Oct. 7 attack

Israeli intelligence docs detail alleged UNRWA staff links to Hamas, including 12 accused in Oct. 7 attack


Tel Aviv, Israel — An Israeli intelligence document shared on Monday with CBS News and a number of other Western news outlets spells out allegations against a dozen U.N. employees whom Israel says participated in Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack. The document claims seven staff members of UNRWA, the U.N. humanitarian agency that helps Palestinian refugees, stormed into Israeli territory during that attack, including two who participated in kidnappings.

The allegations against UNRWA staffers prompted the U.S. and some other Western countries to freeze funds vital to the work of the agency, which is a lifeline for desperate Palestinians in war-torn Gaza. The U.N. fired nine of the 12 accused workers and condemned “the abhorrent alleged acts” of staff members.

The accusations come after years of tensions between Israel and UNRWA over its work in Gaza, where it employs roughly 13,000 people.

U.S., other nations pause UNRWA funding

Despite the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the besieged territory — 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 U.S. and Britain, have temporarily suspended funding. On Monday, Japan and Austria joined them in pausing assistance.

Palestinians collect drinkable water provided by the U.N. amid acute shortages of food, clean water and medicine amid Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas, in Rafah, southern Gaza, Jan. 29, 2024.

Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu/Getty

With the majority of its budget in doubt, UNRWA said it would be forced to halt operations within weeks if funding isn’t restored.

The threat to the U.N. agency came as Israel said cease-fire talks held Sunday in Paris, which CIA chief William Burns took part in, along with his Israeli counterpart and senior representatives from Egypt and Qatar, were constructive but that “significant gaps” remained in any potential agreement. 

The talks are meant to bring about some respite in war-torn Gaza and to secure the release of the more than 130 hostages still believed to be held in the territory.

Fighting continued, further complicating assistance to war-weary people in Gaza. Israel issued an evacuation order to residents in the western part of Gaza City, urging them to head south. The order indicated that battles are still being waged in northern Gaza, an area Israel pummeled in the first weeks of the war and where it had previously said it held military control.

On the ground in Gaza as the war between Israel and Hamas rages on

Israel’s 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 tally.

The war has also threatened to set off a wider regional conflict, with the U.S. announcing three of its troops killed in a strike blamed on Iran-backed militias in Jordan over the weekend.

Details of allegations against UNRWA staff in Gaza

The Israeli document, which has been shared with U.S. officials and obtained by CBS News Monday, lists 12 people, their alleged roles in the attack, job descriptions and photos.

The document says intelligence shows that at least 190 UNRWA workers were also working as Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives, without providing evidence. It says of the 12 workers, nine were teachers and one a social worker. Seven of the employees were accused of crossing into Israel on Oct. 7. Of those, two were alleged to have kidnapped or assisted in the abduction of Israelis and another two were said to have participated in raids on communal farming villages, according to the document.

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 a terror activity” or coordinating the movement of trucks or weapons used in the attack. Ten were listed as having ties to Hamas and one to the Islamic Jihad militant group.

The names and photos of the accused workers could not immediately be verified. Two of the 12 have been killed, according to the document. The U.N. previously said one was still being identified.

UNRWA’s funding, mandate, and tension with Israel

The allegations have stoked longstanding tensions between Israel and UNRWA. Israel says Hamas uses the agency’s facilities to store weapons or launch attacks from. UNRWA says it does not knowingly tolerate such behavior and has internal safeguards to prevent abuses and discipline any wrongdoing.

The agency’s commissioner, Philippe Lazzarini, recently announced that he was ordering an external review of the agency’s operations and its safeguards.

Israel has long been critical of the agency and accuses it of helping to perpetuate the 76-year-old Palestinian refugee crisis.

Jonathan Conricus, a former spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces who is now a senior fellow at the The Foundation for Defense of Democracies thinktank in the U.S., told CBS News correspondent Pamela Falk on Monday that he believes UNRWA is “an obstacle to peace and a corrupt organization that facilitates the continued rule of Hamas over Gaza and its terrorist activities against Israel.”

He said the agency had “no future, and should be responsibly phased out, for the benefit of Palestinians and Israelis.”

UNRWA says it cares for the vast needs of millions of Palestinians across the Middle East that have been sharply exacerbated by the latest war.

Palestinians walk at the entrance of a UNWRA school being used as a shelter in Gaza City, amid Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.


U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for the donors to resume funding on Sunday, and said UNRWA should not be penalized over 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 basic services for Palestinian families who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding the country’s creation. The refugees and their descendants are the majority of Gaza’s population.

Since the war began, most of the territory’s 2.3 million people depend on the agency’s programs for “sheer survival,” including food and shelter, Lazzarini said.

A quarter of Gaza’s population is facing starvation as fighting and Israeli restrictions hinder the delivery of aid, which has been well below the daily average of 500 trucks before the war.

Communications Director Juliette Touma warned that the agency would be forced to stop its support in Gaza by the end of February.


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