UNRWA’s Gaza union head, accused of Hamas ties, no longer employed by agency

Israel has said that school principal Suhail al-Hindi was elected to a leadership role in the terror group in February vote

Palestinians receive their monthly food aid from a UN distribution centre in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, last year. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees said Saturday a Gaza staffer suspected of having been elected to Hamas’s leadership no longer works for the agency.

Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said that Suhail al-Hindi was no longer employed by the UN Relief and Works Agency. He declined to say whether al-Hindi had quit or was fired, saying the agency doesn’t “discuss the terms of departure of individual staff members.”

In February, UNRWA suspended al-Hindi — the chairman of the agency’s Palestinian workers’ union — pending the results of an internal investigation sparked by Israeli accusations that the school principal was a member of Hamas’s new political leadership.

Al-Hindi denied links to the terror group.

Hamas is listed as a terror organization by the United States and most of Europe, including some of UNRWA’s top funders.

The claims against al-Hindi were made by COGAT, the Israeli Defense Ministry agency responsible for civilian affairs in the West Bank and Gaza, and the Foreign Ministry.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness at the 2014 International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East, Sophia University, Tokyo, June 9-10, 2014. (United Nations/John Gillespie/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 2.0)

UNRWA, which provides Palestinian refugees and their descendants with education, health care, and social services, initially denied Hindi’s Hamas affiliation, saying in a statement that the agency had “neither uncovered nor received evidence to contradict the staff member’s denial that he was elected to political office.” Its statement quoted Hindi as saying that he has “no relation whatsoever with the issue.”

Three days later, however, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness announced Hindi was suspended based on “substantial information” it had been provided.

He insisted the decision to suspend Hindi pending the outcome of an internal investigation was made independently of Israeli demands.

Israel has long claimed that some of UNRWA’s Palestinian employees support terrorist activities and spread anti-Semitism online.

Last month, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center said another UNRWA staffer, Muhammad al-Jamassi, employed by the agency as an engineer, was elected to Hamas’s political bureau, its top governing body, in the same February 13 internal elections.

Jamassi has held various positions within Hamas since 2007, including in the group’s public relations department and its affiliated charities, the center said.

In March, he was serving as board chairman for the UNRWA engineering department in central Gaza, and oversees all off the agency’s infrastructure projects in the area.

In February, a UN watchdog group released a report showing screenshots from the Facebook pages of 40 UNRWA school employees in Gaza and other parts of the Mideast that it said “incite to Jihadist terrorism and anti-Semitism, including by posting Holocaust-denying videos and pictures celebrating Hitler.”

In one July 2014 Facebook post, Jordanian Hussein Amrah, who identifies himself on his Facebook profile as an UNRWA school principal, shared a picture of Hamas terrorists, along with the text “Victory is coming. God willing.” (Courtesy: UN Watch)

UN Watch said it had petitioned UN chief António Guterres, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley, urging them “to take action and demand UN and UNRWA condemnation of the incitement, and the immediate termination of the implicated employees.”

In 2015, the US gave UNRWA $380 million in funding.

Gunness recently told The Times of Israel that UNRWA was aware of the incitement allegations, and was “looking into [them] as part of our ongoing commitment to maintaining the Agency’s neutrality.”

In the coming months, Gunness said UNRWA would begin rolling out “compulsory” online social-media training to all of its 30,000 local staff members.

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