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Israel and UN trade allegations of ‘terrorism,’ torture

Messenger Desk

Published: 09:59, 5 March 2024

Update: 10:00, 5 March 2024

Israel and UN trade allegations of ‘terrorism,’ torture

Photo: Collected 

Israel recalled its ambassador to the UN on Monday (4 March) as tensions erupted over the handling of allegations of sexual assault by Hamas during the October 7 attacks.

Israel has accused the United Nations of taking too long to respond to the claims, a charge the UN has robustly defended itself against as it published a report detailing evidence of Hamas rapes and assaults.

At the heart of the increasingly bitter row is the embattled UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which has already seen funding pulled by multiple Western countries after Israel accused about a dozen of its employees of involvement in the October 7 attack.

On Monday UNRWA said members of its own staff had been tortured by Israel, even as the Israeli military said the agency had employed more than 450 "terrorists."

The military also released what it said were recordings of "a terrorist working as an Arabic teacher at an UNRWA school... describing his entry into Israeli territory and stating that he is holding female Israeli hostages" following the October 7 attack.

The Hamas attack on southern Israel resulted in about 1,160 deaths, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed more than 30,500 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll from Hamas-run Gaza's health ministry.

Around 250 hostages were taken by Hamas, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead, according to Israel.

A UN report issued Monday said that there were "reasonable grounds to believe" rapes were committed in Hamas' attack, and that hostages subsequently taken to Gaza have also been raped.

Israel's ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan, who was recalled for consultations over the escalating row, said "it took the United Nations five months to finally recognize the sexual crimes committed on October 7 during Hamas' massacre."

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' spokesman denied that he had done "anything to keep the report 'quiet'" after visceral criticism from Israel's Foreign Minister Israel Katz.

UNRWA employs around 30,000 people in the occupied Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria -- with about 13,000 staff in the Gaza Strip.

It is at the center of efforts to provide humanitarian relief in Gaza, where aid groups warn of looming famine after nearly five months of Israeli bombardment.