Israeli intelligence accuses 190 Gaza UN staff of Hamas, Islamic Jihad roles

Israeli intelligence accuses 190 Gaza UN staff of Hamas, Islamic Jihad roles
Displaced Palestinians queue to receive aid in front of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Updated 29 January 2024

Israeli intelligence accuses 190 Gaza UN staff of Hamas, Islamic Jihad roles

Israeli intelligence accuses 190 Gaza UN staff of Hamas, Islamic Jihad roles
  • Multiple donors have cut funds to UNRWA after accusations
  • Some staff took part in Oct. 7 rampage — intelligence dossier

JERUSALEM: An Israeli intelligence dossier that prompted a cascade of countries to halt funds for a UN Palestinian aid agency includes allegations that some staff took part in abductions and killings during the Oct. 7 raid that sparked the Gaza war.
The six-page dossier, seen by Reuters, alleges that some 190 UNRWA employees, including teachers, have doubled as Hamas or Islamic Jihad militants. It has names and pictures for 11 them.
The Palestinians have accused Israel of falsifying information to tarnish UNRWA, which says it has fired some staffers and is investigating the allegations.
One of the 11 is a school counsellor accused in the Israeli dossier of providing unspecified assistance to his son in the abduction of a woman during the Hamas infiltration in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 253 kidnapped.
Another, an UNRWA social worker, is accused of unspecified involvement in the transfer to Gaza of a slain Israeli soldier’s corpse and of coordinating the movements of pick-up trucks used by the raiders and of weapons supplies.
A third Palestinian in the dossier is accused of taking part in a rampage in the Israeli border village Beeri, one tenth of whose residents were killed. A fourth is accused of participating in an attack on Reim, site both of an army base that was overrun and a rave where more than 360 revellers died.
The dossier was shown to Reuters by a source who could not be identified by name or nationality. The source said that it had been compiled by Israeli intelligence and shared with the United States, which on Friday suspended funding for UNRWA.
The accusations that 190 staff have militant links would represent nearly 15 percent of UNRWA’s total Gaza employees of 13,000.
Asked about the dossier, a spokesperson for UNRWA said she could not comment due to an ongoing probe by the United Nations.
More than 10 countries, including major donors the United States and Germany, have halted their funding to the agency.
Aid operation jeopardized
That is a huge problem for an agency that more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians look to for day-to-day assistance, and which has already been hard-stretched by Israel’s war on Hamas in the enclave.
UNRWA said on Monday it would not be able to continue operations in Gaza and across the region beyond the end of February if funding were not resumed.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency was set up for refugees of the 1948 war at Israel’s founding in what had been British-ruled Palestine. It also tends to millions of the original refugees’ descendants in Palestinian territories and abroad.
Israel has long accused UNRWA or perpetuating conflict by discouraging the resettlement of refugees, and has on occasion said agency staff took part in armed attacks against it.
UNRWA denies wrongdoing, describing its role as relief only.
“From intelligence information, documents and identity cards seized during the course of the fighting, it is now possible to flag around 190 Hamas and PIJ terrorist operatives who serve as UNRWA employees,” the Hebrew-language dossier says.
It accuses Hamas of “methodically and deliberately deploying its terrorist infrastructure in a wide range of UN facilities and assets,” including schools. Hamas denies that.
Two of the alleged Hamas operatives cited in the dossier are described as “eliminated,” or killed by Israeli forces. A 12th Palestinian whose name and picture are provided is said to have no factional membership and to have infiltrated Israel on Oct 7.
Also in the list of 12 men are an UNRWA teacher accused of arming himself with an anti-tank rocket, another teacher accused of filming a hostage and the manager of a shop in an UNRWA school accused of opening a war-room for Islamic Jihad.
More than 26,000 people have been killed in Israel’s military campaign against Hamas in Gaza, the enclave’s health ministry said. With flows of aid like food and medicine just a trickle of pre-conflict levels, deaths from preventable diseases as well as risk of famine are growing, aid workers say.
Most of Gaza’s people have become more reliant on UNRWA aid, including about one million who have fled Israeli bombardments to shelter in its facilities.
“The terrrorist organizations are cynically exploiting the residents of the Strip and the international organizations whose mission is to provide aid ... and in doing so are causing de facto harm to residents of the Strip,” the dossier said.

US says Iran sought help over president crash

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller. (video grab/@StateDeptSpox)
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller. (video grab/@StateDeptSpox)
Updated 9 sec ago

US says Iran sought help over president crash

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller. (video grab/@StateDeptSpox)
  • “Ultimately, largely for logistical reasons, we were unable to provide that assistance”

WASHINGTON: The United States said Monday that arch-enemy Iran sought assistance over a helicopter crash that killed president Ebrahim Raisi, as Washington meanwhile offered condolences despite saying he had “blood on his hands.”
The State Department said Iran, which has had no diplomatic relations with Washington since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution, reached out afer Raisi’s aging chopper crashed in foggy weather Sunday.
“We were asked by the Iranian government for assistance,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
“We said that we would be willing to assist — something that we would do with respect to any government in this situation,” he said.
“Ultimately, largely for logistical reasons, we were unable to provide that assistance.”
He declined to go into detail or describe how the two countries communicated. But he indicated Iran was seeking help in the immediate aftermath to find the helicopter of Raisi, who died along with his foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and seven others.
The crash came after the United States and Iran reportedly held their latest quiet talks in Oman aimed at increasing stability following open clashes between Iran and Israel.
The State Department in a statement offered “official condolences” over the deaths.
“As Iran selects a new president, we reaffirm our support for the Iranian people and their struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” it said.
President Joe Biden’s administration described condolences as standard and not showing support for Raisi, who as a judge presided over mass executions of politicial prisoners and under whose presidency authorities have cracked down on mass protests led by women.
“This was a man who had a lot of blood on his hands,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters, saying Raisi was responsible for “atrocious” abuses.
Kirby said, however, that “as in any other case, we certainly regret in general the loss of life and offered official condolences as appropriate.”
The United States has often but not always offered condolences in the past to leaders it opposed with such messages sent over Joseph Stalin, Kim Il Sung and Fidel Castro.
But the condolence message, along with similar words from European nations, brought anger to some opponents of the clerical state who saw Raisi’s death as reason to celebrate.
Masih Alinejad, a women’s rights activist who US investigators say was the target of an assassination plot in New York engineered by Tehran, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, “Your condolences only pour salt on the wounds of the oppressed.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin indicated that US forces have not changed their posture after the crash in Iran, where decisions are ultimately made by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“I don’t necessarily see any broader regional security impact,” Austin told reporters.
He preemptively denied any US role and said there was no reason to think it was anything other than an accident.
“The United States had no part to play in that crash. That’s a fact, plain and simple,” Austin said.
“It could be a number of things — mechanical failure, pilot error, you name it,” he said.
Iran’s military ordered an investigation. It has often in the past blamed security incidents on Israel and the United States, which both in recent years have struck Iranian targets.
Former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed the crash on continued US sanctions which have impeded the sale of aviation parts.
Asked about Zarif’s remark, Miller said: “Ultimately, it’s the Iranian government that is responsible for the decision to fly a 45-year-old helicopter in what was described as poor weather conditions, not any other actor.”


Amal Clooney helped ICC weigh Gaza war crimes evidence

Amal Clooney helped ICC weigh Gaza war crimes evidence
Updated 21 May 2024

Amal Clooney helped ICC weigh Gaza war crimes evidence

Amal Clooney helped ICC weigh Gaza war crimes evidence
  • Clooney said she was asked by prosecutor Karim Khan to join an expert panel

WASHINGTON: Amal Clooney helped the International Criminal Court weigh evidence that led to the decision to seek arrest warrants for top Israeli and Hamas leaders, the human rights lawyer said Monday.
The high-profile British-Lebanese barrister posted a statement on the website of the Clooney Foundation for Justice, which she founded with her husband, American actor George Clooney.
Both she and the foundation had previously been criticized on social media for not speaking out over the civilian death toll in Gaza.
Clooney said she was asked by prosecutor Karim Khan to join an expert panel to “evaluate evidence of suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity in Israel and Gaza.”
The statement came the same day Khan said he was seeking arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as top Hamas leaders.
“Despite our diverse personal backgrounds, our legal findings are unanimous,” Clooney said, adding there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that Hamas’ Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh engaged in “hostage-taking, murder and crimes of sexual violence.”
With Netanyahu and Gallant, meanwhile, there are “reasonable grounds to believe” the two have engaged in “starvation as a method of warfare, murder, persecution and extermination.”
Khan thanked Clooney in his statement announcing the decision to seek the arrest warrants.
Clooney and other members of the panel also wrote an opinion piece in the Financial Times on Monday supporting ICC prosecutions for war crimes in the conflict.
As Hamas, Israel and top ally the United States all denounced the move, the experts wrote that they “unanimously agree that the prosecutor’s work was rigorous, fair and grounded in the law and the facts.”
Clooney, in her statement, said that “my approach is not to provide a running commentary of my work but to let the work speak for itself.”
“I served on this panel because I believe in the rule of law and the need to protect civilian lives,” she added.
“The law that protects civilians in war was developed more than 100 years ago and it applies in every country in the world regardless of the reasons for a conflict.”

Israel says retrieved bodies of hostages were in Gaza tunnels

Israel says retrieved bodies of hostages were in Gaza tunnels
Updated 21 May 2024

Israel says retrieved bodies of hostages were in Gaza tunnels

Israel says retrieved bodies of hostages were in Gaza tunnels
  • Israel has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry

JERUSALEM: The Israeli army said Monday that the bodies of four hostages retrieved from Gaza last week were found in tunnels under Jabalia, where troops have been engaged in fierce fighting in recent days.
The army said last week it had recovered the bodies of Ron Benjamin, Yitzhak Gelerenter, Shani Louk, and Amit Buskila, all of whom it said had been killed in Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel.
Their remains were recovered “from underground tunnels in Jabalia in northern Gaza,” the army said late Monday in a statement.
During a military operation, Israeli soldiers searched a suspected building in which a tunnel shaft was located, the army said.
“Soldiers then entered the underground tunnel route in a night operation and inside it conducted combat,” it said.
During the fighting the soldiers “located the bodies of the hostages and rescued them from the tunnels,” the army said.
Gelerenter, Louk, and Buskila were killed and abducted from the Nova music festival, while Benjamin was killed at the Mefalsim intersection from where his body was taken to Gaza, the army said last week.
Thousands of young people had gathered on October 6 and 7 to dance to electronic music at the Nova festival event held near Re’im kibbutz, close to the Gaza border.
Fighters from Hamas crossed over from Gaza and killed more than 360 people at the festival, Israeli officials have said.
The Nova festival victims accounted for nearly a third of the more than 1,170 people killed in the October 7 attack, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Out of the 252 people taken hostage that day, 124 are still being held inside the Gaza Strip, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,562 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Since early May the Israeli military has been engaged in renewed street battles in northern and central Gaza.
On Friday, the army told AFP that the fighting in the northern town of Jalalia was “perhaps the fiercest” in over seven months of war.
Fighting in north and central Gaza erupted again when the military began its assault in the far-southern city of Rafah on May 7.


Iran’s Raisi ‘unbefitting of condolences’: son of ousted shah

Iran’s Raisi ‘unbefitting of condolences’: son of ousted shah
Updated 21 May 2024

Iran’s Raisi ‘unbefitting of condolences’: son of ousted shah

Iran’s Raisi ‘unbefitting of condolences’: son of ousted shah

PARIS: Iran’s former president Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash, is not worthy of condolences due to the rights abuses he is accused of overseeing, the son of the late Iranian shah said Monday.

US-based Reza Pahlavi, whose father Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was ousted in the 1979 Islamic revolution and died in exile in 1980, warned the death of Raisi would not affect the policies of the Islamic republic at home or abroad.

“Today, Iranians are not in mourning. Ebrahim Raisi was a brutal mass-murderer unbefitting of condolences,” Pahlavi said in a post on his official Instagram.

“Sympathy with him is an insult to his victims and the Iranian nation whose only regret is that he did not live long enough to see the fall of the Islamic republic and face trial for his crimes,” the former crown prince added.

Rights groups including Amnesty International have long accused Raisi of being a member of a four-man “death committee” involved in approving the executions of thousands of political prisoners, mostly suspected members of the outlawed opposition group People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), in 1988.

As a key figure in the judiciary ever since and then president from 2021, Raisi has also been accused of responsibility over deadly crackdowns on protesters and other violations.

But Pahlavi warned the death of Raisi, as well as that of his foreign minister Hossein-Amir Abdollahian in the same crash, will “not alter the course” of the Islamic republic, where supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has final say.

“This regime will continue its repression at home and aggression abroad,” Pahlavi said.

Pahlavi was a key member of a broad coalition of Iranian exiled opposition groups that joined together in the wake of nationwide protests that erupted in September 2022.

The coalition broke up amid tensions, but he remains an influential figure for some in the diaspora.

Pahlavi’s father the late shah, who was groomed by the West to be a Cold War ally, grew increasingly autocratic during his decades-long rule, using his feared Savak security service to crush political opposition and leading to criticism from Washington of his human rights abuses.

Iran’s President Raisi and FM Amir-Abdollahian join a long list of world leaders who have perished in air disasters

Iran’s President Raisi and FM Amir-Abdollahian join a long list of world leaders who have perished in air disasters
Updated 20 May 2024

Iran’s President Raisi and FM Amir-Abdollahian join a long list of world leaders who have perished in air disasters

Iran’s President Raisi and FM Amir-Abdollahian join a long list of world leaders who have perished in air disasters
  • The duo perished on Sunday when the helicopter carrying them crashed in a mountainous region of northern Iran
  • At least two dozen top officials and serving heads of state have died in plane and helicopter crashes over the past century

LONDON: Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi was confirmed dead on Monday after search-and-rescue teams found his crashed helicopter in a mountainous region of northern Iran, close to the border with Azerbaijan.

Killed alongside Raisi were Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and seven others, including the crew, bodyguards and political and religious officials.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has assigned Vice President Mohammad Mokhber to assume interim duties ahead of elections within 50 days. Ali Bagheri, the country’s one-time top nuclear negotiator, was appointed as acting foreign minister.

Iranian authorities first raised the alarm on Sunday afternoon when they lost contact with Raisi’s helicopter as it flew through a fog-shrouded mountain area of the Jolfa region of East Azerbaijan province.

Iranian authorities first raised the alarm on Sunday afternoon when they lost contact with Raisi’s helicopter. (AP/Moj News Agency)

Raisi had earlier met Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev on their common border to inaugurate a dam project.

On the return trip, only two of the three helicopters in his convoy landed in the city of Tabriz, setting off a massive search-and-rescue effort, with several foreign governments soon offering help.

As the sun rose on Monday, rescue crews said they had located the destroyed Bell 212 helicopter — a civilian version of the ubiquitous Vietnam War-era UH-1N “Twin Huey” — with no survivors among the nine people on board.

State television channel IRIB reported that the helicopter had “hit a mountain and disintegrated” on impact.

Analysts have highlighted concerns about the safety of Iran’s civilian and military aircraft, many of which are in a poor state of repair after decades of US sanctions deprived the nation of new models and spare parts.

Iran has kept its civil and military aviation fleets flying during its isolation since the 1979 revolution through a combination of smuggled parts and reverse-engineering, according to Western analysts.

“Spare parts would have definitely been an issue for the Iranians,” Cedric Leighton, a retired US Air Force colonel, told CNN.

State television channel IRIB reported that the helicopter had “hit a mountain and disintegrated” on impact. (Reuters/West Asia News Agency)

“In this particular case, I think this confluence of spare parts, because of the sanctions, plus the weather, which was very bad over the last few days in this particular part of northwestern Iran.

“All of that, I think contributed to a series of incidents and a series of decisions that the pilot and possibly even the president himself made when it came to flying this aircraft … And unfortunately for them, the result is this crash.”

Sunday’s incident is only the latest in a long history of air disasters that have claimed the lives of world leaders since the dawn of aviation.

One of the first instances of a serving leader or head of state to die in an air accident was Arvid Lindman, the prime minister of Sweden, whose Douglas DC-2 crashed into houses in Croydon, south London, while attempting to take off in thick fog on Dec. 9, 1936.

As the age of aviation took off during the interwar period, more and more leaders began taking to the skies for diplomatic visits and to touch base with the more distant corners of their dominions.

On Sept. 7, 1940, Paraguayan President Jose Felix Estigarribia died in a plane crash just a year after taking office, followed in 1943 by Poland’s prime minister in exile, Wladyslaw Sikorski, who died on July 4, 1943, when his B24C Liberator crashed into the Mediterranean shortly after taking off from Gibraltar.

While aviation technology and safety rapidly advanced after the Second World War as more and more countries began establishing their own air forces and civilian commercial fleets, technical faults, bad weather, and foul play continued to claim lives.

The top officials were found dead at the site of a helicopter crash on Monday after an hourslong search through a foggy, mountainous region. (AP/Moj News Agency)

On March 17, 1957, Ramon Magsaysay, the president of the Philippines, was killed when his plane crashed into Mount Manunggal in Cebu. A year later, on June 16, Brazil’s interim president, Nereu Ramos, died in a Cruzeiro airline crash near Curitiba Afonso Pena International Airport.

Africa has also seen its share of air disasters. On March 29, 1959, Barthelemy Boganda, president of the Central African Republic, died when his Atlas flying boxcar exploded in midair over Bangui.

Then, in 1961, Swedish economist and diplomat Dag Hammarskjold, who served as the second secretary-general of the UN, died when his Douglas DC-6B crashed into a jungle in Zambia on Sept. 18.

With the 1960s came the widespread adoption of helicopter flight in conflict zones, search-and-rescue operations, and increasingly as an efficient way for politicians, diplomats and business leaders to get around and land in areas without an airstrip.

Sunday’s incident is only the latest in a long history of air disasters that have claimed the lives of world leaders since the dawn of aviation. (AFP)

Like fixed-wing aircraft, however, helicopters are not immune to bad weather conditions, obstacles, human error, sabotage or terrorism.

One of the first world leaders to die in a helicopter crash was Abdul Salam Arif, the president of Iraq, who reportedly died when his aircraft was caught in a thunderstorm on April 13, 1966.

Similar incidents followed with the April 27, 1969, death of Bolivian President Rene Barrientos in a helicopter crash in Arque, and Joel Rakotomalala, the prime minister of Madagascar, in a crash on July 30, 1976.

Bad weather contributed to the death of Yugoslav premier Dzemal Bijedic on Jan. 18, 1977, when his Gates Learjet crashed into a mountain during a snowstorm.

Climatic conditions were also blamed when Ecuadorian President Jaime Roldos Aguilera’s Beech Super King Air 200 FAE-723 crashed on May 24, 1981, and when Mozambican President Samora Machel’s Tupolev-134A crashed while trying to land in a storm at Maputo on Oct. 19, 1986.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. (AFP)

As the skies became busier, the potential for accidents grew. On July 18, 1967, Humberto de Alencar Castelo Branco, the first president of the Brazilian military dictatorship after the 1964 coup, died in a midair collision of Piper PA-23 aircraft near Fortaleza.

On May 27, 1979, Ahmed Ould Bouceif, the prime minister of Mauritania, died in a plane crash off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, and Francisco Sa Carneiro, who served as Portugal’s prime minister for only 11 months, died on Dec. 4, 1980.

Not all crashes can be blamed on the weather or pilot error, however. In several cases, aircraft have been deliberately targeted as a means of killing their high-profile passengers.

Panamanian leader Gen. Omar Torrijos died on July 31, 1981, when his Panamanian Air Force plane crashed under suspicious circumstances.

On June 1, 1987, Lebanese statesman Rashid Karami, who served as prime minister eight times, was killed when a bomb detonated aboard his helicopter shortly after takeoff from Beirut.

In one particularly devastating incident, Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira were both killed on April 6, 1994, when their Dassault Falcon 50 9XR-NN was shot down while approaching Rwanda’s Kigali airport.

Iranians will observe five days of mourning for victims of the helicopter crash. (Reuters/West Asia News Agency)

There have been several investigations into the air crash that killed Pakistan’s Gen. Zia Ul-Haq on Aug. 17, 1988, but no satisfactory cause was found, leading to a flurry of assassination theories.

The Pakistani Air Force Lockheed C-130B crashed shortly after takeoff from Bahawalpur. According to investigators, the plane plunged from the sky and struck the ground with such force that it was blown to pieces and wreckage scattered over a wide area.

Despite vast improvements in aviation safety, disasters have continued to strike well into the new millennium.

On Feb. 26, 2004, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski died when his Beechcraft Super King Air 200 Z3-BAB crashed while trying to land in poor weather at Mostar.

A man lights a candle to offer condolences outside the Iranian embassy, in Baghdad. (Reuters)

John Garang, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and briefly first vice president of Sudan, died when his helicopter crashed into a mountain range in the country’s south after getting caught in poor weather on July 30, 2005.

Muhammadu Maccido, the sultan of Sokoto in Nigeria, was killed alongside his son when his ADC Airlines Flight 53 crashed on Oct. 29, 2006, and Polish President Lech Kaczynski died on April 10, 2010, when his Tupolev-154 crashed in foggy weather when approaching Smolensk airport in western Russia.

In the latest incident prior to Raisi’s death, the deceased was actually at the controls when the aircraft got into difficulty. Chile’s former president, Sebastian Pinera, was killed on Feb. 6 this year when the Robinson R44 helicopter he was piloting crashed nose-first into Lake Ranco.

An Iranian woman holds a poster of President Ebrahim Raisi during a mourning ceremony in Tehran, Iran. (AP)

While this list of fatalities might give world leaders pause for thought as they step aboard their presidential jets on their next diplomatic outing, it is well worth remembering that modern air travel is statistically many times safer than traveling by road.

That said, an experienced pilot, an aircraft in good condition, a clear weather forecast, and a flight plan shrouded in secrecy would no doubt improve their odds of making a safe arrival.