UNRWA Is Investigating Charges of Workers’ Involvement in Oct. 7 Attacks

The United Nations agency that aids Palestinians, known as UNRWA, said on Friday it had dismissed several workers accused of being involved in the Hamas-led terrorist attacks on Oct. 7 and had launched an investigation into the allegations.

Israel has previously accused UNRWA, which operates a wide array of social programs in the Gaza Strip, of fueling anti-Israeli sentiment. The stunning accusation and the U.N.’s swift reaction, however, contrast with previous U.N. denials of Israeli allegations.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, said in a statement that he had immediately dismissed the UNRWA workers to “protect the Agency’s ability to deliver humanitarian assistance.” He added that any UNRWA worker who was involved “will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.”

He did not say how many of UNRWA’s 13,000 workers in Gaza had been accused, nor did he give their nationalities, though the vast majority are Palestinian.

Despite the actions by the U.N., the U.S. State Department said it had “temporarily paused additional funding” to the agency, noting the allegations involved 12 UNRWA workers.

Mr. Lazzarini said the allegations came a time when more than 2 million Gazans are depending on the U.N. agency for food, medicine and other critical aid. “Anyone who betrays the fundamental values of the United Nations also betrays those whom we serve in Gaza, across the region and elsewhere around the world,” he said.

Israel and the U.N. have each accused each other of acting in bad faith since Israel launched its war in Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas-led assault, which Israeli officials say killed about 1,200 people. The U.N. has accused Israel of slowing the delivery of humanitarian aid to the embattled enclave, and Israel has said the world body has promoted Hamas’s propaganda.

Those allegations, however, are less politically sensitive than the accusation that humanitarian workers could have engaged in an act of terror, an allegation being taken seriously by the U.N. secretariat, the United States and the European Union, UNRWA’s largest donors.

The U.S. secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, spoke on Thursday with the U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, and called for “a thorough and swift investigation,” the State Department said. Mr. Blinken also told the U.N.’s leader that the United States was asking Israel, which initially made the allegation, for more information.

UNRWA, or the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, is one of Gaza’s largest employers and drives much of the enclave’s education, health and food assistance operations. During the war, it has played a critical role in overseeing the distribution of food and medical aid in Gaza.

United Nations officials have repeatedly said ordinary residents of Gaza are at risk of starvation and are experiencing a spike in infectious diseases as the weather gets colder.

Josep Borrell Fontelles, the E.U.’s top diplomat and vice president of the European Commission, said he was “extremely concerned” about the allegation that U.N. employees had been involved in the terrorist attacks. He said that the Commission was in contact with UNRWA and expected it to take immediate measures against the staff involved.