The standoff hardens between Israel and the UN agency UNRWA, who accuse each other

Accusations and unfriendly exchanges are increasing between Israel and the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA)

The standoff hardens between Israel and the UN agency UNRWA, who accuse each other

Accusations and unfriendly exchanges are increasing between Israel and the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). Confirming information from the New York Times, the head of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, said that there was an internal report from the UN agency, not made public, relating to “hundreds of prisoners released” by Israel, via the Kerem Shalom crossing point, and evoked a real trauma for the latter.

Even though UNRWA is not responsible for issues related to incarcerations, being the only agency present in Kerem Shalom, it has collected testimonies. “We saw these people coming back from detention, some after a few weeks, some after a few months. And most of them completely traumatized by the ordeal they had experienced,” explained Philippe Lazzarini.

“This is a wide range of mistreatment,” he added. “People systematically humiliated, people photographed naked, subject to verbal and psychological abuse, threats of electrocution”, or even “sleep deprivation, the use of extreme noise to prevent sleep”, “l 'use of dogs to intimidate'. Some of these prisoners were UNRWA employees, he noted.

The agency had earlier Monday accused Israeli authorities of committing acts of “torture” against some of its employees arrested in the Gaza Strip since October 7. “Our employees reported to us horrific things during their detention and interrogation by Israeli authorities” such as “torture, ill-treatment, abuse and sexual exploitation,” she said in a statement. transmitted to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

“Some of our employees reported to UNRWA teams that they had been forced to make confessions under torture” when they were “questioned about relations between UNRWA and Hamas and about involvement in the “October 7 attack on Israel,” she added.

Israel accuses UN of being “a terrorist organization in Gaza”

Israeli authorities have rejected these accusations. In a statement, the Israeli military denied “blanket and unfounded accusations of sexual abuse of detainees in Israeli armed forces facilities.” “These claims are yet another attempt to create false equivalences with Hamas’s systematic use of rape as a weapon of war,” she added.

An episode in tense relations between the Jewish state and the UN had already taken place earlier on Monday when Israel recalled its ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, to denounce the “silence” of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres , about alleged sexual violence by Hamas during the unprecedented attacks of October 7.

In a speech to the General Assembly, Mr. Erdan accused the UN “of being itself a terrorist organization in Gaza.” A reference in particular to the accusations brought at the end of January against twelve of the 30,000 regional UNRWA employees who, according to Israel, participated in the attacks of October 7 which led to the death of 1,160 people, mainly civilians, according to a count by the AFP. The UN immediately separated from the accused employees who were still alive and an internal investigation was launched.

At the same time, Antonio Guterres entrusted an independent group with a mission to evaluate UNRWA and its “neutrality”. The UN notes that, so far, Israel has not shared any evidence of its accusations with investigators or UNRWA.

But Israel again accused UNRWA on Monday of having “terrorists” among its employees. “According to intelligence services, more than 450 terrorists belonging to terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, mainly Hamas, are also employed by UNRWA,” the Israeli army said in a statement.

The United Nations has also been criticized for reacting too slowly to the rapes and sexual violence of which Israel accuses Hamas, but the Secretary General now denounces them almost systematically in his speeches. And on Monday, his special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, concluded after a visit to Israel that there are "good reasons to believe" that victims of October 7 were raped, as were some hostages held in Gaza.

“It took the United Nations five months to finally recognize the sexual crimes,” commented Gilad Erdan, referring to the “shame of the UN exposed for all to see.”

UNRWA at “a breaking point”

In this context of exchanges of accusations and denials, many countries defended the agency before the General Assembly, which created UNRWA in 1949. “Two million people are totally dependent on the services of UNRWA", underlined the Ambassador of Yemen, Abdullah Ali Fadhel Al-Saadi, on behalf of Arab countries, calling on donors to resume their funding. Around fifteen countries have in fact suspended their funding, for a total of $450 million (approximately €415 million), the equivalent of more than half of the funds received in 2023.

Philippe Lazzarini denounced a “deliberate and concerted campaign to undermine” the “backbone” operations of humanitarian aid in Gaza, with the ultimate aim of “putting an end to it”. “Dismantling UNRWA is reckless. In doing so, we will sacrifice an entire generation of children, sowing the seeds of hatred, resentment and future conflict,” he insisted.

Mr. Lazzarini, however, welcomed the new contributions announced. The European Commission has notably released 50 million euros. Thanks to them, the agency “can continue its operations and remain a vital aid to Palestinian refugees throughout the region,” he noted. " But for how long ? ".

“Hard to say,” he said, still describing an organization at “a breaking point.”