Israeli defense minister: ‘dozens’ of UNRWA staff took part in Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre

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FIRST ON FOX – Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant says Israel has new evidence that dozens of individuals employed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – the controversial U.N. aid agency responsible for the welfare of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants – were directly involved in the atrocities carried out against Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, Fox News Digital has learned.

In an interview this week with Fox News Digital, Gallant said the country had knowledge that “dozens” of UNRWA staff were involved in the Hamas-led massacre. While he declined to give a specific figure, Gallant said it was a far greater number than the 12 employees already acknowledged – and dismissed last month – by the organization. 

Calling UNRWA “Hamas with a facelift,” the defense chief, who is a member of Israel’s war cabinet and considered the highest ranking official after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that it was time for the world to “dismantle UNRWA” and create an alternative mechanism for providing aid to civilians in the war-stricken Gaza Strip.

“I think the world needs to wake up and address this issue in a different way, while also addressing Gaza’s needs,” Gallant told Fox News Digital. “UNRWA is a group of terrorists who receive salaries from many countries – these countries gave money to people who raped, murdered and took people into captivity.”

UN APPOINTS INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF UNRWA AMID ALLEGATIONS ITS WORKERS JOINED HAMAS-LED ATTACK ON ISRAEL

Austin in Israel

Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, right, speaks during a joint statement with his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, following a joint statement following their meeting about Israel’s military operation in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Monday, Dec. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo)

On Oct. 7, thousands of Palestinians, led by terrorists from Hamas’ elite Nukbah force, broke through the border fence from the Gaza Strip into Israel, murdering more than 1,200 people on multiple army bases, as well as in towns, villages, and at a music festival taking place in the area. In addition, some 240 individuals, including babies, children, women and the elderly, were taken hostage back to Gaza. More than 100 people are still being held captive some four months later. 

The minister highlighted that many of those murdered or kidnapped held dual Israeli and U.S. citizenship.

Last month, UNRWA, which receives billions of dollars in funding from multiple countries, including the U.S. and the EU, acknowledged previous Israeli revelations that 12 of its workers were directly involved in the murderous rampage. 

Split image of a United Nations flag over United Nations builing, the back of a woman being taken by Hamas

United Nations headquarters and flag juxtaposed with a picture of an Israeli woman kidnapped by Hamas terrorists. (Getty Images/Hamas-Telegram)

The organization’s Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said at the time that he had decided to “immediately terminate the contracts of these staff members and launch an investigation in order to establish the truth without delay.”

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“Any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution,” Lazzarini said in a statement, acknowledging that the “Israeli authorities had provided UNRWA with information.”

Following Lazzarini’s announcement, at least 19 donor countries, including the U.S., froze their funding to the organization. On Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 30-19 to advance a bill to permanently cut all U.S. aid to UNRWA in response to the allegations.

There has, however, been some pushback against halting UNRWA’s funding, particularly at this critical stage when the organization, as well as other non-profits working inside Gaza, says a dire humanitarian crisis threatens thousands of people who have been forced from their homes during four months of fighting that has destroyed the healthcare system and other essential infrastructure. 

UNRWA Gaza HQ

A man walks in front of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) building as UNRWA personnel strike demanding a salary increase because of the high cost of living, in Gaza City, Gaza, on Jan. 30, 2023. (Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Despite its past and current controversies, UNRWA and its commissioner-general were shortlisted this week for the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Hamas terrorists inside Israel during attack

This image from undated bodycam video footage taken by a downed Hamas terrorist and released by Israel Defense Forces, shows a Hamas terrorist walking around a residential neighborhood at an undisclosed location in southern Israel. Israel’s military brought together a group of foreign correspondents on Monday, Oct. 16, 2023, to screen a 40-minute reel of gruesome footage compiled from Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7. (Israel Defense Forces via AP)

On Monday, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres appointed a committee to look into what he said were “alleged breaches of U.N. staff regulations, rules and codes of conduct.” Led by Catherine Colonna, a former French Foreign Minister, with assistance from three international research organizations, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden, the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Norway, and the Danish Institute for Human Rights, the committee will begin its work next week and is expected to deliver an interim report sometime in March. A final report is slated to be completed by late April.

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UNRWA sign

From 2009 to 2024, a little under $4 billion in taxpayer dollars was given to the humanitarian relief organization, according to a Fox News Digital review. (Mahmoud Issa/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A spokeswoman for UNRWA told Fox News Digital that to date “the Israeli government has officially informed UNRWA of ONLY about 12 staff who are allegedly involved in the attack against Israel on Oct. 7.”

“That was in a meeting between the Israeli authorities and the UNRWA Commissioner General on 18 January,” said the spokeswoman, adding, “No additional information has been shared by the government of Israel directly or indirectly or officially to UNRWA since then.”

Israel has long claimed that UNRWA, which was established in 1949 to provide shelter, welfare and health services for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced when Israel was created, perpetuates the decadesold conflict. It points out that Palestinian refugees are the only group afforded their own separate aid agency – while refugees from almost every other global conflict past and present are cared for under the broader umbrella of the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees – and the only nation where refugee status is inherited.

Biden Netanyahu Gallant

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, confers with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, during their meeting with President Biden, left, at the start of the Israeli war cabinet meeting, in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Miriam Alster / POOL / AFP)

Israel has also highlighted multiple times that UNRWA’s education system allows antisemitic tropes to be taught to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian pupils in its schools throughout Gaza, the West Bank and the Arab countries in which it operates. In January, UN Watch, an NGO that monitors U.N. bias against Israel, published messages celebrating the Oct. 7 massacre that were shared in a social media group made up of some 3,000 UNRWA school teachers.

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Tents and temporary homes in Gaza

An aerial view of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) tent camp, where hundreds of Gazan families fleeing Israeli attacks are trying to survive their daily lives under limited means and difficult conditions in Khan Yunis, Gaza, on Nov. 27, 2023. (Ashraf Amra/Anadolu via Getty Images)

One of the U.N.’s largest agencies, UNRWA employs more than 30,000 individuals worldwide and operates out of two main headquarters located in Amman, Jordan and Gaza. According to its latest figures, around 5.9 million Palestinian refugees are eligible to receive UNRWA’s services and its annual budget for 2022 was more than $1 billion. Ninety percent of that funding comes from U.N. member states, with the U.S., Germany and the EU being the largest donors.

Speaking to his cabinet members last week, Netanyahu said that the evidence that some of UNRWA’s staff “participated in the atrocities and abductions on October 7… only strengthens what we have known for a long time – UNRWA is not part of the solution, it is part of the problem.”