Accused UNRWA staff 'betrayed' Palestinians, says agency's Gaza chief

By Isaac M February 7, 2024

Employees accused of taking part in the Hamas-led 7 October attack on Israel “betrayed” the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, the group’s Gaza chief has told Sky News.

The UK and US are among 16 countries that have suspended funding to the UN’s relief agency in Gaza (UNRWA) following Israeli accusations that 12 employees were involved in the assault.

Speaking to The World with Yalda Hakim, Tom White said he was shocked by the allegations, which led to the staff being immediately fired.

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“We are very clear with our staff and it’s in the contract they sign with UNRWA that they work as humanitarians and any sort of militant activity is totally incompatible with their work,” he said.

“I’ve spoken to a large number of our staff in the last few days, Palestinian staff, and equally they are shocked by the actions of this small group.

“Essentially, they’ve betrayed the organisation, they’ve betrayed their mission as humanitarians and they’ve betrayed the Palestinians themselves and compromised this vital aid operation.”

Israel’s claims came as the country faced a genocide case at the International Court of Justice over its war on Gaza, and after years of it calling for the agency to be disbanded.

Tom White said the staff 'betrayed' the agency
Tom White said the staff ‘betrayed’ the agency

Palestinians carry bags of flour distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip January 29, 2024. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Palestinians carry bags of flour distributed by UNRWA. Pic: Reuters

Mr White said they share a list of staff working in Gaza with Israel every 12 months, but concerns had never been raised.

While the allegations shock Mr White, he said only a small fraction of its 13,000-strong workforce are accused and that withdrawing funds would be “absolutely catastrophic”.

“If we run out of funds, the aid operation here will collapse and that will be absolutely catastrophic for the people of Gaza,” he said, adding the agency feeds 350,000 families and administers vaccines.

He spoke the day after accusing Israel of striking a UNRWA aid convoy, which was waiting on the coastal road in Gaza for the green light from Israel to deliver aid to the north of the enclave.

The truck hit by Israeli naval gunfire, according to Tom White. Pic: Tom White via Reuters
The truck hit by Israeli naval gunfire, according to Tom White. Pic: Tom White via Reuters

“It is exceptionally dangerous to deliver aid in Gaza,” he added.

“People in the north have not had an aid convoy with food for over 10 days.”

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are now hemmed into Rafah, in the south, with Israel threatening to storm the area when it finishes a battle in Khan Younis just north of it.

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The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says 27,585 people have been killed by Israel in Gaza since 7 October, with another 66,978 wounded.

Those figures do not differentiate between civilians and fighters, while Israel says 1,200 people were killed on 7 October, with more than 200 taken hostage.


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