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Israel Allegedly Pressured UNRWA Staff To Falsely Confess Hamas Ties: Reports

The United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees has alleged that some of its employees released from Israeli detention reported being pressured by authorities to falsely state the agency has links to Hamas and that staff took part in last October’s attacks on Israel.

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The explosive claims are contained in an unpublished 11-page report by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) reviewed by Reuters. It details allegations from unidentified Palestinian detainees, including UNRWA personnel, of mistreatment and coercion while in Israeli custody.

“Agency staff members have been subject to threats and coercion by the Israeli authorities while in detention and pressured to make false statements against the Agency, including that the Agency has affiliations with Hamas and that UNRWA staff members took part in the October 7th, 2023 atrocities,” the report states.

UNRWA communications director Juliette Touma told Reuters the agency plans to hand over the information to UN bodies and other groups that document potential human rights abuses once the Gaza conflict ends.

“When the war ends, there needs to be a series of inquiries to look into all human rights violations,” Touma said. She added the report was based on “first-hand testimonies” from dozens of freed Palestinian detainees assisted by UNRWA.

The report said several UNRWA Palestinian staff claimed they endured severe physical beatings, waterboarding, threats to family members and other abuse during detention by Israeli forces.

In addition to the allegations involving UNRWA personnel, it cited broader claims by Palestinian detainees of beatings, humiliation, threats, dog attacks, sexual violence and deaths due to withheld medical care.

When asked by Reuters, an Israeli military spokesperson did not directly address the specific allegations of coercing UNRWA staff. However, the spokesperson insisted Israeli forces act by domestic and international laws protecting detainee rights.

The spokesperson also claimed freed detainees could be compelled by Hamas to denounce Israel or face retaliation, calling into question their credibility.

The allegations come amid an escalating crisis between Israel and UNRWA following the Jewish state’s accusations in January that a dozen UNRWA staff in Gaza took part in the October 7th Hamas assault that killed 1,200 Israelis and led to over 30,000 Palestinian deaths.

Those charges prompted the suspension of $450 million in funding to UNRWA by 16 countries, including the United States, severely impacting the agency’s operations providing aid and services to Palestinian refugees.

While UNRWA fired some employees, citing the need to maintain humanitarian assistance, it has condemned the Israeli allegations, and an independent UN investigation is underway.

Reuters said it could not independently verify the detainee accounts in the UNRWA report. However, the alleged abuses are consistent with reports from Palestinian ex-detainees by other media of beatings, torture and humiliation in Israeli custody.

Both sides are motivated to reinforce their competing narratives around the crisis. For UNRWA, the report bolsters its denials of ties to Hamas, and purported mistreatment could undermine the Israeli allegations.

But Israel has long sought UNRWA’s dissolution over claims it harbours terrorist elements. Coerced confessions tying personnel to Hamas could justify while deflecting accountability over any detainee mistreatment.

With the humanitarian agency’s credibility and future at stake, the UN investigation will likely face pressure to authoritatively resolve the opposed claims – even as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on.

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