ARCHIVE IMAGE: A leaked document seen by Brussels Signal indicates that the UNRWA believes that "munitions" have been stored on its premises in Gaza by armed groups. (Photo by Abid Katib/Getty Images)


EXCLUSIVE: Leak shows UNRWA believes ‘munitions’ were in its Gaza facilities


Brussels Signal has received a leaked document that indicates UNRWA – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East – fears “munitions” have been stored on its premises in Gaza by armed groups.

The agency made the statement in a private document sent to members of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Development committees on March 6, within which it insisted there were “no grounds” for Israeli claims that the agency had been “totally infiltrated” by terrorists.

Addressing MEPs, UNRWA said it took reported incidents of the storing of weapons, ammunition and other military equipment at its facilities, very seriously.

“Every time that UNRWA has discovered that the neutrality of its facilities has been compromised by third parties, including being used by armed groups in Gaza to cache munitions, it has protested to de facto authorities in Gaza,” the document read.

It went on to slam claims by Israel as unfounded that it had been compromised by Hamas, justifying that by stating the agency had investigated 66 staff members over alleged breaches of agency neutrality, some of which are said to have involved workers that supported the terror group.

“Sixty-six cases out of 30,000 staff – not all of which have been substantiated – is just 0.22 per cent,” the UNRWA document read.

“There is absolutely no ground for a blanket description of ‘the institution as a whole’ being ‘totally infiltrated’,” it added, arguing that the purported low number of investigations launched by the agency indicated that Israel was incorrect in its claims that the agency had been compromised.

Also discussed in the document was the alleged discovery of Hamas-made tunnels under the UNRWA’s headquarters in Gaza. The Israeli Government has claimed such have been used to store weapons, ammunition and even an entire data centre belonging to the terrorists.

The UN agency insisted it has no way of checking whether or not such infrastructure exists, claiming it does not have the capability to look into such reports regarding its own buildings.

“As a humanitarian and human development agency, UNRWA does not have counter-intelligence, police, expertise and capacity to undertake military inspections of what is or might be underground its premises,” the body claimed.

Whenever it has in the past discovered mysterious tunnels located on its premises, the organisation insisted that it always took the necessary measures to try to remedy the situation.

Those include contacting authorities in Palestine, Israel and major funders as well as trying to fill any discovered cavities with cement.

The agency concluded by telling MEPs that the European Union has little other choice other than to continue supporting the efforts of the UNRWA as there is allegedly no other agency in the world able to provide the level of aid it does in Palestine.

“The entire aid operation is reliant on UNRWA, due to the Agency’s infrastructure, logistics, distribution capacity and staff,” it said, adding that continued decisions to cut the organisation’s funding over reports of its links to terrorism risks creating a humanitarian crisis.

The document’s leak came amid allegations that UNRWA staff were actively involved in the murder of Israeli civilians on October 7 last year.

In a statement, the Israeli Defence Force claimed on March 4 that UNRWA employed “more than 450 terrorists”, some of whom it said were involved in the abduction of Jewish women during last year’s Hamas attack.

At the time of writing, Brussels Signal has contacted UNRWA for comment.

According to Reuters, many countries that paused funding to the UN Palestinian refugee agency are likely having second thoughts and payments could resume soon, Norwegian foreign minister Espen Barth Eide said on March 6.

Several countries, including the US and UK, paused their funding too, after accusations by Israel that a dozen of its 13,000 staff in Gaza took part in the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Norway, a top donor to UNRWA, has maintained its funding and transferred 275 million crowns (about €24 million) in February, its regular annual contribution, and said more may arrive.

It is also lobbying countries that have paused funding to resume.

Barth Eide said: “I think that a large number of those countries who suspended are [having] second thoughts,” adding “they cannot punish the whole Palestinian society.

“This is increasingly recognised and agreed by many,” he said, after meeting Norwegian aid organisations to take stock of the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

“But then, of course, they need an honourable way out, which means they are hoping, I think – without speaking for individual countries – that they will get something from these investigations that suggest that they can say: ‘Well, we needed to suspend, but now we’re back.’”

The UN is conducting an internal probe, while former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna is leading an independent review.

It was difficult for the US to “come back” to UNRWA, the Norwegian minister said but there could be solutions, he added, with an “understanding between the US and Europe” on sharing the work.

“The US could do more of something else and Europeans [could] concentrate more on UNRWA,” he said, adding that “the combination of Europeans stepping up and Arab states [as well] is probably necessary”.

On March 2, the European Commission said it would pay €50 million to UNRWA but hold back €32 million while it investigates the Israeli allegations.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the continued funding showed that the EU acknowledged UNRWA “as an irreplaceable actor”.

Britain is awaiting the outcome of the Colonna-led review, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.

The UK Government expects the report in the coming weeks and will then provide an update. Britain has distributed all its planned funding for UNRWA for this financial year. Its next payment – around £35 million (€41 million) – is due in May.

Reuters contributed to this article.