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ConflictsMiddle East

Israel-Hamas war: UNRWA fires staff accused of aiding Oct. 7

Published January 25, 2024last updated January 26, 2024

The UN's relief agency for Palestinians has fired several employees and launched an investigation after Israel provided information allegedly linking them to Hamas' October 7 attacks.

A UNRWA fuel truck waiting at the Rafah border crossing for entry into Gaza. Archive image from November 2023.
The UNRWA is a crucial coordinator and provider of aid in the Palestinian territories, but often faces accusations of bias from IsraelImage: Gehad Hamdy/dpa/picture alliance
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • ICJ rules on provisional measures in Gaza genocide case
  • UNRWA fires staff and announces probe as Israel provides information allegedly linking them to the October 7 attack by Hamas
  • US suspends funding to agency temporarily in response
  • Continued fighting reporting in Khan Younis in southern Gaza

This live updates article has been closed. 

Skip next section Yemen's Houthis say British oil tanker struck in Red Sea
January 26, 2024

Yemen's Houthis say British oil tanker struck in Red Sea

Yemen's Houthi rebels claimed on Friday to have attacked a vessel near Yemen's Aden in the Red Sea.

The Houthi military spokesperson said on Friday the rebels' naval forces targeted "the British oil tanker Marlin Luanda" in the Gulf of Aden, causing a fire to break out.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations agency (UKMTO) and British maritime security firm Ambrey also said they received reports of an attack on a vessel in the same location, and a fire breaking out as a result.

The incident reported by the UKMTO occurred approximately 60 nautical miles southeast of Aden.

"The vessel is requiring assistance. Authorities have been informed and are responding," UKMTO added.

Meanwhile, US Central Command said that a Houthi missile was fired "toward" a US Navy ship, the USS Carney, on Friday, but that it was intercepted.

"The missile was successfully shot down by USS Carney," AP quoted it as saying. "There were no injuries or damage reported."

Skip next section Former ICC prosecutor says ICJ ruling puts US in tough position
January 26, 2024

Former ICC prosecutor says ICJ ruling puts US in tough position

The United States cannot continue to support Israel's war in Gaza in the same way as it did before, Luis Moreno Ocampo, the former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), told DW on Friday.

"The US cannot support a similar campaign now, because it could be accomplice of genocide," said Moreno Ocampo.

He was reacting to the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) earlier Friday that said Israel risked genocide in its war in Gaza, and must take steps to avoid this. However, the ruling stopped short of ordering a cease-fire.

The court instead ordered the country to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza and do more to help civilians.

"The court is saying to Israel what you are doing is a very imminent risk of genocide for these people in Gaza," said Moreno Ocampo.

The ICJ asked Israel to report back in one month with evidence that it is implementing the orders.

Moreno Ocampo described the court's decision not to order a complete cease-fire as smart, saying it was now up to Israel to decide how to prevent genocide.

The idea is not "to punish people here, the priority is to prevent genocide, and that why the issue is how Israel will adjust," said Moreno Ocampo.

Friday's ruling did not deal with South Africa's core accusation in the case as to whether Israel is committing genocide in the Palestinian enclave. The arguments about that might take years, but Moreno Ocampo said that does not matter.

"It is a compromise, because it give us a space, to political leaders to find a solution. If we believe in law, we have to stop it," he said. 

Skip next section WHO denies Israeli claims of being in 'collusion' with Hamas
January 26, 2024

WHO denies Israeli claims of being in 'collusion' with Hamas

The UN's World Health Organization has rejected Israeli accusations that it was in "collusion" with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, by ignoring what Israel says is evidence of the "military use" of hospitals in the Gaza Strip.

"Such false claims are harmful and can endanger our staff who are risking their lives to serve the vulnerable," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on social media on Friday. "As a United Nations agency, WHO is impartial and is working for the health and well-being of all people."

This a separate dispute, unconnected to the developments at the UNRWA on Friday.

Israeli Ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar had made the accusations at a meeting of the UN's health agency's board on Thursday. She said WHO was ignoring Israeli evidence of the "military use" of "every single hospital that the IDF searched in Gaza," and also "turning a blind eye" to the issue of the hostages Hamas has been holding since the October 7 attacks. 

The WHO and Tedros have been particularly critical of Israeli military operations in and around health care facilities in Gaza during the conflict, with Israel in turn claiming they are operationally necessary and blaming Hamas for allegedly embedding themselves in, underneath, or near such facilities.

Skip next section US pauses UNRWA funding amid Hamas attacks involvement probe
January 26, 2024

US pauses UNRWA funding amid Hamas attacks involvement probe

The US government has temporarily suspended additional funding to the United Nations' agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), after the agency said it had terminated the contracts of several employees accused of playing a role in the deadly October 7 attacks against Israel.

The US State Department said it was "extremely troubled" by the allegations, which the UNRWA said it was investigating. 

"The Department of State has temporarily paused additional funding for UNRWA while we review these allegations and the steps the United Nations is taking to address them," said spokesperson Matthew Miller.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said the bloc would "assess further steps and draw lessons based on the result of the full and comprehensive investigation."

Skip next section UNRWA fires staff accused of role in Israel attacks, launches probe
January 26, 2024

UNRWA fires staff accused of role in Israel attacks, launches probe

The United Nations aid agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) has fired several employees following allegations they were involved in the deadly terror attacks by Hamas militants in southern Israel.

"The Israeli authorities have provided UNRWA with information about the alleged involvement of several UNRWA employees in the horrific attacks on Israel on October 7," said Philippe Lazzarini, the agency's head.

"To protect the agency's ability to deliver humanitarian assistance, I have taken the decision to immediately terminate the contracts of these staff members and launch an investigation in order to establish the truth without delay," he said. 

Lazzarini again condemned the October 7 attacks, in which Hamas, classified by multiple countries as a terrorist organization, killed about 1,200 people and took around 250 hostages.

UNRWA, which provides education, medical care and welfare services to hundreds of thousands of Gaza's 2.3 million people, has tens of thousands of employees.

"Anyone who betrays the fundamental values of the United Nations also betrays those whom we serve in Gaza, across the region and elsewhere around the world," said Lazzarini.

Skip next section World Court orders Israel to take steps to avoid genocide
January 26, 2024

World Court orders Israel to take steps to avoid genocide

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Friday said Israel must prevent genocidal acts in Gaza and facilitate "urgently needed" humanitarian aid into the besieged territory.

But the UN's top court stopped short of ordering an immediate halt to military operations, as South Africa had requested.

Court President Joan E. Donoghue said the court was extremely worried by the loss of life in the Gaza Strip

"The court is acutely aware of the extent of the human tragedy that is unfolding in the region and is deeply concerned about the continuing loss of life and human suffering," she said.

The court in the Netherlands ruled on South Africa's request for "provisional measures" against Israel but has not yet made a final decision on the main accusation of genocide.

That hearing and decision could take years. 

You can read the full report on the court's decision by clicking here

Skip next section Missiles and explosions reported off Yemen
January 26, 2024

Missiles and explosions reported off Yemen

Two missiles exploded in waters south of Yemen on Friday, maritime monitoring agencies said, as attacks on commercial shipping by Houthi rebels continued.

A Panama-flagged oil tanker "reported seeing two blasts" in the Gulf of Aden, said maritime risk monitor Ambrey, a report that was corroborated by the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO).

Ambrey said the missiles exploded about a mile from the India-affiliated oil tanker and 200-300 meters (650-1,000 feet) underwater. UKMTO also confirmed the missiles detonated in the water.

"The target was unclear at the time of the report. There was no damage reported," Ambrey said.

In a separate incident on Friday, the UKMTO said it had also received a report of an explosion close to a vessel approximately 60 nautical miles off the Red Sea port of Al Hudaydah where Houthi militants have been launching attacks on shipping.

Skip next section Fighting continuing in Khan Younis
January 26, 2024

Fighting continuing in Khan Younis

Israeli ground forces have continued to attack Hamas targets in the city of Khan Younis in the south of the Gaza Strip and are engaged in "intensive battles" in the heart of the city.

"Terrorists were killed by the troops during fighting in the area," said an army spokesperson, adding that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had suffered several casualties.

Israeli officials said they believes senior Hamas officials are hiding in the extensive tunnel network beneath the city, considered a Hamas stronghold and that Israeli hostages are also being held there.

The Palestinian Red Crescent reported on Thursday that Israeli units had bombed and shelled the area around the al-Amal Hospital and that rescue workers and people seeking help could no longer reach it. Eyewitnesses have reported thousands of people fleeing the city due to the fighting.

The IDF said it also attacked Hamas infrastructure again in the north of the coastal strip.

Meanwhile, Hamas officials say 120 people were killed overnight by Israeli airstrikes.

Skip next section UN says Suez Canal freight down 45%, Maersk diverts key service
January 26, 2024

UN says Suez Canal freight down 45%, Maersk diverts key service

Freight passing through the Suez Canal has dropped by 45% in the two months since Houthi rebels in Yemen began attacking commercial shipping in the Red Sea, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The UN agency said 39% fewer ships have transited the canal compared to the start of December.

On Friday, Danish shipping group Maersk announced that it was redirecting its Middle East Container Line (MECL) services around the Cape of Good Hope instead.

Jan Hoffmann, UNCTAD's head of trade logistics, said three key global trade routes are now disrupted, with Ukrainian grain and oil transports through the Black Sea reduced since the Russian invasion and low water levels in the Panama Canal due to drought leaving shipping down 36% on last year, and 62% compared to two years ago.

"We are very concerned," he told a briefing late on Thursday. "We are seeing delays, higher costs, higher greenhouse gas emissions" as vessels opt for longer routes and increase speed to compensate for increased distance.

Ultimately, he said, consumers will feel the impact in the form of prices for food and goods, even if the effect is delayed.

"Passing on these higher freight rates to consumers takes time, up to a year until we would really see them in shops like IKEA or Walmart," he said.


Skip next section Israeli airline El Al to suspend South Africa route over ICJ case
January 26, 2024

Israeli airline El Al to suspend South Africa route over ICJ case

El Al Israel Airlines is set to suspend flights to Johannesburg at the end of March, citing a drop in demand since South Africa accused Israel of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

El Al currently operates up to two weekly non-stop flights between Tel Aviv and Johannesburg, but said it will now redeploy aircraft to expand current destinations and potential new routes.

"Israelis don't want to fly to South Africa," said an El Al spokesperson. "They are canceling flights and planes are pretty

The move comes just hours ahead of an interim decision by the ICJ in the genocide case.

A Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner from El Al is taking off
El Al has until now operated up to two weekly flights to South Africa from IsraelImage: Urbanandsport/NurPhoto/picture alliance
Skip next section Top UN court to rule on 'provisional measures' in Gaza genocide case
January 26, 2024

Top UN court to rule on 'provisional measures' in Gaza genocide case

Judges from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will hand down an interim ruling on Friday regarding South Africa's genocide case against Israel.

The ruling will not deal with the core accusation of the case as to whether or not Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

Instead, the Friday ruling will focus on nine "provisional measures" sought by South Africa to end the human suffering while the court hears the case in full, which could take years.

These emergency measures include an immediate end to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, allowing more humanitarian aid into the besieged territory, and for Israel to investigate and prosecute possible violations.

Why is South Africa taking Israel to court for genocide?

Israel has asked the top United Nations court to reject the case outright.

Israeli leaders argue that the military campaign is self-defense against Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist group by the US, the EU, Germany and others.

"We expect the ICJ to throw out these spurious and specious charges," Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy said on Thursday.

In its submission to the court, South Africa acknowledged the "particular weight of responsibility" of accusing Israel of genocide but said it was bound to uphold its duties under the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.

"Genocides are never declared in advance," said Adila Hassim, a lawyer for South Africa.

"But this court has the benefit of the past 13 weeks of evidence that shows incontrovertibly a pattern of conduct and related intention that justifies a plausible claim of genocidal acts."

The court is set to issue its ruling at 1 p.m. in The Hague (1200 UTC).

Skip next section IDF telling people to leave UN shelter in Khan Younis — UNRWA official
January 25, 2024

IDF telling people to leave UN shelter in Khan Younis — UNRWA official

Tamara Alrifai, from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) told DW that the organization had heard that the IDF had been telling people to evacuate the UN center in Khan Younis in southern Gaza. She also questioned whether this was a realistic request for the people there.

"We heard that the Israel Defense Forces were using loudspeakers to tell people in the West of Khan Younis, which is where our biggest shelter is, to evacuate," Alrifai said. She said that there had been "an intensification" of fighting in that area."

Alrifai said the UNRWA "did not receive a warning"  before a shell struck one of its buildings on Wednesday, "although we had shared our GPS with the Israeli authorities, but also with the de facto or Hamas authorities."

This was done so that those involved in fighting "know exactly where the UN, the humanitarian buildings and personnel are," Alridai explained.

The UN building housed 43,000 displaced people many of whom had been displaced three or four times in the last three months of fighting Alrifai said.

She added that there were another estimated 30,000 people "sleeping in the open" nearby, because they felt a level of protection being close to a UN building. 

"Unfortunately, the UN building got hit," Alrifai said.

Alrifai questioned the sense in telling tens of thousands of people to evacuate as fighting took place nearby. 

"Now, in terms of how realistic it is to ask up to 70,000 people to evacuate in less than 24 hours, it is extremely unrealistic to expect all these people to be able to truly leave while the active fighting is still happening and to leave safely," she said.

The UNRWA spokesperson said getting access to the area was "extremely difficult" because the Israeli military had encircled the area.

Skip next section US and UK impose sanctions on Yemen Houthi leaders
January 25, 2024

US and UK impose sanctions on Yemen Houthi leaders

The governments of the US and UK on Thursday imposed sanctions on four leaders of the Houthi rebel group as they try and safeguard maritime operations in the Red Sea area.

Mohamed al-Atifi, Muhammad Fadl Abd al-Nabi, Muhammad Ali al-Qadiri and Muhammad Ahmad al-Talibi are all accused of assisting or sponsoring acts of terrorism, according to the US Treasury.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said the restrictions "reinforce our clear message to the Houthis in recent weeks," and promised to target those behind the "unacceptable and illegal actions" against shipping.

"We can degrade their ability to attack international shipping. We are determined to protect freedom of navigation. We will back our words with actions," Cameron said.

The militant group has launched repeated attacks on ships in the Red Sea since November, saying it's in response to Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza.

The US and UK have conducted joint military strikes on Houthi positions inside Yemen in efforts to limit the group's ability to launch attacks on vessels in the vital shipping area.

US, UK launch fresh strikes on Houthis in Yemen

Skip next section Renewed shelling on Israel-Lebanon border
January 25, 2024

Renewed shelling on Israel-Lebanon border

Israel's military said it had struck a number of Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon on Thursday.

"Fighter jets attacked a short time ago a series of military targets of the terrorist organization Hezbollah in the area of ​​Tzur and Ma'ira in the territory of Lebanon," Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Daniel Hagari said on social media.

Hagari went on to say that "military buildings and sites used by the air unit of the terrorist organization Hezbollah" were targeted.

The Iranian-backed Shiite militant group claimed responsibility for two drone strikes near the northern Israeli community of Kfar Blum, with no reports of injuries or damage caused.

Since the Gaza war broke out on October 7, Hezbollah and Israeli forces have exchanged fire most days, highlighting the dangers of the a regional spread of the fighting. However, clashes have so far been largely limited to exchanges of fire over their shared border.

Several countries, including the US in 1997 and Germany in 2020, have designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization. The European Union classified its armed wing as terrorist group in 2013.

Many fear Israel-Hamas war could spread across Middle East

Skip next section Israel accuses WHO of Hamas 'collusion'
January 25, 2024

Israel accuses WHO of Hamas 'collusion'

Israel on Thursday accused the World Health Organization of colluding with the Hamas militant group.

Israel's ambassador to the UN, Eilon Shahar, told the WHO executive board that Israel's evidence that medical facilities were being used by the Islamist group for "terrorist use" was being ignored.

"Al Rantisi, Kamal Adwan, Al Quds, Al Shifa, the Indonesian hospital… The list goes on. Every single hospital that IDF searched in Gaza, it found evidence of terrorist use," Shahar posted on social media.

"These are undeniable facts the @WHO chooses to ignore time and time again. This is not incompetence. It is collusion," Shahar said.

Israeli authorities have long maintained that hospitals in Gaza have been used by Hamas for military use and the US has said that it has independent intelligence which supports the claim. Neither have yet produced conclusive evidence. Hamas disputes the allegations. 

The WHO had previously said it had seen no evidence to support the claims and that its role was not to investigate such issues.

Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by the US, the EU and a number of other governments.

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