Israel says UN’s interim report on UNRWA allegations a ‘cover up’ of its terror ties

Foreign Ministry calls proposals for ‘cosmetic reforms’ in agency ‘meaningless,’ says nations should not resume funding, but instead divert money to other humanitarian efforts

Displaced Palestinians receive food aid at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2024. (AFP)
Displaced Palestinians receive food aid at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2024. (AFP)

Israel has lambasted an interim report reviewing allegations against Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA as attempting to “cover up” the body’s failures and its ties to terror organizations in order to allow for it to resume receipt of global funding.

The report, commissioned by the UN and produced by an independent team headed up by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna, found that the agency has mechanisms in place to ensure its neutrality, but also deficiencies that must be addressed.

The review group was established following Israeli allegations in late January that 12 of UNRWA’s employees actively participated in Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught on southern communities, when terrorists murdered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 253 hostages to Gaza. Israel argues that Hamas’s infiltration into the agency runs far deeper and that some 1,500 employees (some 10%) have active ties to terror groups.

A statement from the Foreign Ministry released on Saturday, 10 days after the independent review group issued its interim findings, said the report ignores the severe accusations against UNRWA and offers only suggestions for “cosmetic” reforms to the Palestinian refugee agency.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat excoriated the report for “not even” including a “simple statement that UNRWA should fire or refrain from employing members of Hamas and other terrorist organizations.”

IDF soldiers take up position as they enter the UNRWA headquarters, where the military discovered tunnels underneath the UN agency that the military says Hamas terrorists used to attack its forces during a ground operation in Gaza, February 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“All the proposals for cosmetic reforms offered by the group are meaningless and ignore the real problem that UNRWA is part of the terrorist infrastructure of Hamas,” Haiat added, saying that the report’s conclusions “are another stain on the United Nations and the UN secretary-general.

“Israel calls on the donor countries not to allow their taxpayers’ money to flow through UNRWA to terrorist organizations, and to divert this funding to other humanitarian organizations in Gaza,” the statement concluded.

Following Israel’s bombshell allegations against the agency — which Jerusalem has long accused of helping perpetuate the ongoing conflict — a number of countries, including the US, suspended funding to the organization.

In recent weeks, as hunger in Gaza has grown more acute amid difficulties in the distribution of humanitarian aid, a number of countries have resumed funding to UNRWA, which has the most established infrastructure in the Strip, including France, Canada and Australia.

The panel’s interim report found “that UNRWA has in place a significant number of mechanisms and procedures to ensure compliance with the Humanitarian Principle of neutrality, and the group has also identified critical areas that still need to be addressed,” according to a statement from Guterres’s spokesman earlier this month, which didn’t specify the areas in need of fixes.

The panel is slated to develop its final report with recommendations for how UNRWA should address neutrality concerns going forward and present it to the public on April 20.

Former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna (R) meets with Foreign Ministry Director-General Kobi Blitstein, March 11, 2024. (Yafit Ilyaguyev/Foreign Ministry)

The review group worked with three research institutes — Sweden’s Raoul Wallenberg Institute, Norway’s Chr. Michelsen Institute and Denmark’s Institute for Human Rights. Colonna interviewed UNRWA staff as well as Israeli and Palestinian officials as part of the investigation.

UNRWA was established in 1949 following the war surrounding the founding of Israel, when 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes.

It employs 30,000 Palestinians to serve the civic and humanitarian needs of 5.9 million descendants of those refugees — in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and vast camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. In Gaza, it is providing shelter for some one million people newly displaced by the war between Israel and Hamas, sparked by the October 7 massacre.

Israel has long pushed for UNRWA’s closure, arguing that it helps perpetuate the conflict with the Palestinians since it confers refugee status upon descendants of those originally displaced around the time of Israel’s War of Independence, unlike other refugee groups around the world.

The agency has also been found to employ antisemitic staffers and use textbooks at its schools Israel deemed antisemitic and inciteful.

Jacob Magid and agencies contributed to this report.

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