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UN chief vows to punish staff involved in Hamas attack - but pleads for aid agency funding to resume

The head of the United Nations has promised to hold to account "any UN employee involved in acts of terror" after allegations that some refugee agency staff members were involved in the 7 October Hamas attacks on Israel.

But Antonio Guterres implored governments to continue supporting the UN refugee agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) after nine countries suspended their funding.

"Any UN employee involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution," Mr Guterres said in a statement.

"The Secretariat is ready to cooperate with a competent authority able to prosecute the individuals in line with the Secretariat's normal procedures for such cooperation.

"The tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA, many in some of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be penalised. The dire needs of the desperate populations they serve must be met."

In his first direct comments on the issue, the UN chief gave details about the UNRWA staff implicated in the "abhorrent alleged acts".

Follow live: 'Ironclad' intel shows UN agency staff links to Hamas

Of the 12 implicated, he said, nine had been terminated, one was confirmed dead and the identities of the other two were being clarified.

The UK, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Finland on Saturday joined the US, Australia and Canada in pausing funding to the aid agency, a critical source of support for people in Gaza, after the allegations by Israel.

"While I understand their concerns - I was myself horrified by these accusations - I strongly appeal to the governments that have suspended their contributions to, at least, guarantee the continuity of UNRWA's operations," Mr Guterres said.

On Saturday, the head of UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, said the decision to pause funding for the aid agency was "shocking".

"These decisions threaten our ongoing humanitarian work across the region including and especially in the Gaza Strip," Mr Lazzarini said.

"UNRWA is the primary humanitarian agency in Gaza, with over two million people depending on it for their sheer survival.

"Some 3,000 core staff out of 13,000 in Gaza continue to report to work, giving their communities a lifeline which can collapse anytime now due to lack of funding."

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He suggested UNRWA would be "forced to suspend its humanitarian response" if funding was not reinstated.

In the wake of the allegations, the UK Foreign Office said it was "temporarily pausing any future funding of UNRWA whilst we review these concerning allegations".

It said it was "appalled" by the claims, adding: "We remain committed to getting humanitarian aid to the people in Gaza who desperately need it."

'Just the tip of the iceberg', senior adviser to Israeli PM says

It comes after a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there was "documented, clear and ironclad" information showing the 12 UNRWA staff members were part of the Hamas force that broke into Israel and killed 1,200 civilians.

Mark Regev said a lot of the information that led to the accusations was shared by Hamas on social media.

"Hamas went live on social media and boasted a lot of the material, so you actually see the faces and the people involved in a lot of the crimes," he told Sky News.

Mr Regev added the alleged UNRWA staff involvement in Hamas's operations was "not an aberration" and that this investigation was "just the tip of the iceberg".

Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz has said UNRWA should be replaced once fighting in the enclave dies down.