United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has vowed to hold to account “any UN employee involved in acts of terror” after allegations that some refugee agency staffers were involved in the Hamas attack on Israel.
However, Mr Guterres implored governments to continue supporting the UN refugee agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) after multiple countries paused funding.
“Any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution,” Mr Guterres said in a statement.
“The Secretariat is ready to cooperate with a competent authority able to prosecute the individuals in line with the Secretariat’s normal procedures for such cooperation.”
At the same time, he said: “The tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA, many in some of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be penalised. The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met.”
In his first direct comments on the issue, Mr Guterres confirmed that 12 UNRWA employees were cited in the accusations, which the United Nations is investigating.
The UN chief gave details about the UNRWA staffers implicated in the “abhorrent alleged acts.”
Of the 12 implicated, he said, nine had been terminated, one was confirmed dead and the identities of the other two were being clarified.
Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Finland joined the United States, Australia and Canada in pausing funding to the aid agency, a critical source of support for people in Gaza, after the allegations by Israel.
“While I understand their concerns, I was myself horrified by these accusations, I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA’s operations,” Mr Guterres said.
The row between Israel and UNRWA follows the UN’s International Court of Justice ruling on Friday that Israel must prevent possible acts of genocide in the conflict and allow more aid into Gaza.
Hamas criticised Israeli “threats” against UNRWA, urging the UN and other international organisations not to “cave in to the threats and blackmail.”
The Islamist group’s 7 October attack resulted in about 1,200 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians.
Militants also seized about 250 hostages and Israel says around 132 of them remain in Gaza, including the bodies of at least 28 dead captives.
Israel’s military offensive, which began in late October, has killed at least 26,257 people, most of them women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.