UN mourns record death toll in war with over 100 employees killed in Gaza


GENEVA, (Reuters): More than 100 United Nations employees have been killed since the Israel-Hamas war began in Gaza, the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) said on Friday, making it the deadliest conflict ever for the UN in such a short period of time.

Some were killed queuing for bread; others died along with their families in their homes, UNRWA told Reuters, as Israel’s devastating aerial and ground war against Hamas in densely populated Gaza continued in response to the Oct 7 cross-border assault on Israeli communities by the Islamist group.

“Devastated. Over 100 UNRWA colleagues confirmed killed in 1 month. Parents, teachers, nurses, doctors, support staff. UNRWA is mourning, Palestinians mourning, Israelis mourning,” Philippe Lazzarini said on social media platform X. The agency later said it was mourning 101 colleagues.

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“They represent what is happening to the people of Gaza. They happen to work for the UN,” said Juliette Touma, Director of Communications at UNRWA. “They and every other civilian in the Gaza Strip…should never have been killed.”

UN staff around the world will observe a minute of silence and flags will fly at half mast on Monday, the global body said.

Israel blames Hamas for civilian deaths in Gaza, saying the group uses the population as human shields and hides weapons and equipment around hospitals, which have been hit by bombardments.

Besides Gaza, the next most deadly conflicts for UN aid workers was Nigeria in 2011 when a suicide bomber attacked its Abuja office during an Islamist insurgency, killing 46.

The ongoing South Sudan conflict has killed 33 UN staff, and another 33 were killed in Afghanistan in 2009 as US troops battled the Taliban, according to the Aid Worker Security Database, a US-funded platform that compiles reports on major security incidents affecting aid workers.

In addition, seven other non-UN Palestinian aid workers have been killed in Gaza, the database showed.

Aid workers enjoy protection under international humanitarian law but experts cite few precedents for such cases going to trial, with concerns about ensuring future access for aid groups and difficulty proving intent cited as impediments.

Established in 1949 following the first Arab-Israeli war, UNRWA provides public services including schools, healthcare and aid. Many of UNRWA’s 5,000 staff working in Gaza are Palestinian refugees themselves.

Under UN staff rules, employees are due compensation in the case of death, including some funeral costs and an annual pay-out for families. But UNRWA, which had financial problems even before the current crisis, says it is not even sure it can pay staff salaries until year-end.

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