News and Information

Israel arrests UN Gaza employees
October 5, 2004
Israel has arrested 13 UN employees on suspicion of "links to terrorism".
The BBC's Jerusalem correspondent says this often means membership of an armed group, such as Hamas.

General Yisrael Ziv said there were plans to charge the UN staff. However, the UN in New York says it has received no information about the arrests.

Gen Ziv also rowed backed from an Israeli accusation that Palestinian militants had used a UN ambulance in Gaza for a rocket strike on Israel.

"We have in our hands a list of 13 detainees who are to be indicted, they are UN people with suspected links to terrorism," Gen Ziv said, without giving details of their jobs or nationalities.

He was speaking at a news conference convened in the midst of a row between the UN and Israel over Israeli claims that footage showed a UN ambulance being used to transport rockets.

When he was asked about whether the object filmed was a rocket or a stretcher, Gen Ziv said: "I suggest we don't deal with the object but rather with the context," Haaretz newspaper reported.

He said that Unrwa employees exploited UN vehicles "in order to support terror-related activities."

Haaretz also reported that the Israeli army is reviewing its initial assessment of the footage, with officers saying it was " impossible to swear" the object was not a stretcher.

'No crime'

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is sending a team to investigate the accusations.

The head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (Unrwa) said the pictures showed nothing more than a stretcher and the Israeli accusations were malicious propaganda that endangered the lives of UN workers.

Peter Hansen has acknowledged that some of Unrwa's 24,000 Palestinian employees were probably members of militant groups but he did not see that at a crime.

"Hamas as a political organisation doe not mean that every member is a militant and we do not do political vetting and exclude people from one persuasion as against another," Mr Hansen told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday.

But he said the UN expected all employees to act with neutrality.

UN officials in New York say they have no information about the latest reported arrests but they say in the 12 months to June this year, 34 Unrwa staff were arrested or detained by Israeli authorities in the West Bank and Gaza.

Most were held without charge and Unrwa did not receive any official information about the reason for their detentions.


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