Israeli failed to prove Hamas has deeply infiltrated UN aid agency, report says: Updates

Israel has provided no evidence that hundreds of U.N. aid workers in Gaza are affiliated with Hamas, but the aid agency needs more "robust" screening to ensure neutrality among its workforce, an independent review released Monday has found.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ordered the review after Israel accused workers with the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) of providing support for the attack on Israel that ignited the Hamas-Israeli war. More than a dozen nations, including the U.S., halted funding for the agency when the allegations became public.

The review, led by the former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna, calls for stronger safeguards to ensure neutrality but says the agency already has a significant system to ensure compliance with "humanitarian principles."

The review was prompted by Israeli allegations that at least 12 UNRWA employees were directly involved in the Hamas-led attack Oct. 7, another 30 supported the attack in some way, and as many as 12% of the organization’s staff were affiliated with the militant group. UNRWA has over 13,000 aid workers in Gaza. "Moving forward, the secretary-general appeals to all stakeholders to actively support UNRWA, as it is a lifeline for Palestine refugees in the region," his office said in a statement.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Hamas is tied in so closely to UNRWA that “it is impossible to say where UNRWA ends and Hamas begins.”

“The problem with UNRWA-Gaza is not a problem of a few bad apples,” the statement said. "It is a poisoned and rotten tree whose roots are Hamas.”

After six months of war: Pregnant women in Gaza Strip face starvation, no anesthesia


∎ The Israeli military said it was on high alert for the Passover holiday, continuing "operational activity and full readiness in all arenas." It's the first major Jewish holiday since the festival of Simchat Torah on Oct. 7, the day of the Hamas attack that ignited the current war.

∎ Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif lauded Iran on Monday for taking a strong stand on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. At a briefing alongside visiting Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Islamabad, Sharif called on Muslim countries to unite and raise their voice for an end to the conflict.

Netanyahu: 'Hearts are heavy' for Passover

Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu issued a Passover address saying Israelis are remembering hostages still held by militants "who cannot join their families at the Seder table. Their absence strengthens our resolve and reminds us of the urgency of our mission. We will not rest until each one is freed." He once again pledged increased military and diplomatic efforts to free them. He accused Hamas of hardening its stance at the bargaining table and promised to "respond decisively."

"There is more to come. We will prevail," he said.

Rafah invasion, fighting reportedly expected to last at least 6 weeks

Israel is preparing to begin an assault on the crowded southern Gaza city of Rafah that is expected to last at least six weeks, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing Egyptian officials. The officials, who the Journal said were briefed on Israel's plan, said Israel is preparing to move civilians from Rafah to Khan Younis, a city less than 10 miles to the northeast. Israel plans to set up shelters with tents, food-distribution centers and medical facilities such as field hospitals there, the Journal reported.

Rafah is serving as home to more than million people, most of them refugees from the fighting elsewhere in Gaza. The global community has urged Israel to abandon invasion plans, and the U.S. has lobbied for a more targeted attack on Hamas leaders and fighters in the city on the Egyptian border.

The evacuation operation would last two to three weeks and be done in coordination with the U.S., Egypt and other Arab countries, the Journal reported. The Egyptian officials said Israel plans to move troops into Rafah gradually, targeting areas where Israel believes Hamas leaders and fighters are hiding.

Biden warns of 'alarming surge of antisemitism' 

President Joe Biden called on Americans to speak out against the "alarming surge of antisemitism" in the U.S. following pro-Palestinian protests at Columbia University that prompted the school to cancel all in-person classes Monday and hold class online. Biden's comments are some of his most pointed to date targeting protests that have erupted at college campuses across the country in the months since the Israel-Hamas war began last October.

"Silence is complicity," Biden said in a written statement Sunday evening. "Even in recent days, we’ve seen harassment and calls for violence against Jews. This blatant antisemitism is reprehensible and dangerous – and it has absolutely no place on college campuses, or anywhere in our country."

− Joey Garrison

Biden: 'Alarming surge of antisemitism' in US

Israeli military intel chief resigns, citing role in Oct. 7 attack

The head of Israel's military intelligence resigned Monday and said he would retire, citing his own role in contributing to the failure to stop Hamas' attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

Major General Aharon Haliva appears to be the first senior official from Israel's military or political establishment to resign over Hamas' surprise attack, which killed an estimated 1,200 people. It was the largest loss of life in a single day in Israel's history. Militants also took 253 hostages back to Gaza, where Israel believes more than 130 may remain.

Haliva, who made the announcement in a letter shared by Israel's Defense Forces, was on vacation in the Israeli resort town of Eilat on Oct. 7. He was alerted of suspicious militant activity hours before the attack but was not involved in ensuing deliberations that incorrectly determined the activity was likely a drill.

Haliva previously accepted responsibility for the intelligence failures that led to the worst security failure in Israel's 76-year history.

"The military intelligence directorate under my command did not live up to our mission," Haliva wrote in the letter. "I have been carrying that black day ever since, day and night. I will live with the horrible pain every day."

Haliva said he would retire once a successor was found.

'Antisemitism and anarchy': Rabbi urges Jewish students to leave Columbia for their safety

Iraq-based militant group denies resuming attacks on US bases

The Iraq-based militant group Kataib Hezbollah denied issuing a statement saying it had resumed attacks on U.S. forces. The denial came hours after rockets were fired at a U.S. base in Syria − and hours after a social media post linked to the Iran-backed group appeared to declare a resumption in the attacks after a three-month pause.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani visited the U.S. last week, and a group affiliated with Kataib Hezbollah said armed factions in Iraq had decided to resume attacks after having seen little progress on talks to end the U.S.-led military coalition in the country. In January, three U.S. service members were killed and at least 34 others wounded in a drone attack by Kataib Hezbollah in northeast Jordan near the Syrian border.

Multiple rockets were fired Sunday from a vehicle in Iraq targeting a U.S. base in northeastern Syria, the Iraqi military said. The military said the vehicle was destroyed. U.S. Central Command did not immediately respond to a USA TODAY request for information on the attack.

'Crisis' at Columbia University: Classes forced online; arrests at Yale: Live updates

Columbia cancels in-person classes amid protests

Columbia University announced Monday that all classes will be held virtually and asked that students who don't live on campus stay home following protests over the Israel-Hamas war that have led to arrests and caused a rabbi to urge Jewish students to stay away from the school a day before the start of Passover.

The announcement comes after days of protests at the school, which have raised concerns for the safety of the university's Jewish students and fueled a national debate over student demonstrations as campuses across the country grapple with growing unrest over the war in Gaza. Yale police arrested dozens of students on Monday after they declined to clear an encampment, and Harvard closed its main lawn area to the public in anticipation of protests.

Christopher Cann

Netanyahu doesn't take blame, pledges gains in war

Israeli media has been reporting for months that the country's military and intelligence officials completely missed or ignored multiple warnings that Hamas was planning an operation on Israel's border with Gaza. Netanyahu, however, has not acknowledged direct responsibility for Oct. 7. He has also signaled that he has no intention of resigning despite growing protests over his handling of the war, particularly over the issue of Israel's hostages. Negotiations with Hamas aimed at their return have stalled and Israel's military campaign in Gaza, now in their seventh month, have not freed them either.

"In the coming days, we will increase the political and military pressure on Hamas," Netanyahu said Sunday. "This is the only way to bring back our hostages and achieve victory. We will land more and painful blows on Hamas - soon."

In Gaza, more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war's outbreak, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. The ministry says the majority of those killed have been women and children.

Contributing: Reuters

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Israel war: Israel failed to prove claims of Hamas ties to UN agency