UN ends check into one UNRWA worker, suspends 4 more probes, says evidence lacking

Investigations ongoing into 14 other employees of the aid agency who are alleged by Israel to be involved with Hamas

People walk past the damaged Gaza City headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on February 15, 2024. (AFP)
People walk past the damaged Gaza City headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on February 15, 2024. (AFP)

UN investigators examining Israeli accusations against 19 staff from the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA for allegedly taking part in the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel have closed one case due to a lack of evidence from Israel and suspended four more, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Friday.

He said the inquiry by the Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) continues into the remaining cases.

After an initial 12 cases were raised by the Israeli government in late January, a further seven cases were brought to the attention of the United Nations in March and April, Dujarric said.

In the closed case, Dujarric said “no evidence was provided by Israel to support the allegations against the staff member” and that the UN is “exploring corrective administrative action to be taken in that person’s case.”

He said four cases were suspended “as the information provided by Israel is not sufficient for OIOS to proceed with an investigation.” He said UNRWA was considering what administrative action to take.

UNRWA provides education, health, and aid to millions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric fields questions for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during a press conference, June 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described the agency as “the backbone of all humanitarian response in Gaza” and pledged to act immediately on any new information from Israel related to “infiltration of Hamas” among its workers.

The accusations became public in January when UNRWA, which employs some 13,000 people in Gaza, announced that it had fired some staff and been briefed by Israel. Of the initial 12 accused by Israel, UNRWA fired 10 people and said the remaining two are dead. It was not immediately clear how they died.

OIOS immediately began its investigation into the accusations against the dozen staff, and the United Nations separately appointed former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna in February to lead a review of UNRWA’s ability to ensure neutrality and respond to allegations of breaches.

Colonna’s findings were released on Monday and noted that UNRWA has “a more developed approach” to neutrality than other similar UN or aid groups. “Despite this robust framework, neutrality-related issues persist,” her report found.

Israel alleges that some 10% of UNRWA’s staff in Gaza have ties to terror, and that educational facilities under the organization’s auspices consistently incite to hatred of Israel and glorify terror.

Israel’s allegations against UNRWA workers led 16 states to pause or suspend funding of $450 million to UNRWA, a blow to an agency grappling with the humanitarian crisis that has swept Gaza since Israel launched its offensive there.

UNRWA said most of those countries had resumed funding, but the United States, Britain, Italy, Austria, and Lithuania had not. A UN spokesperson said UNRWA currently had enough funding to pay for operations until June.

UN workers are pictured at a UNRWA warehouse/distribution centre in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, which was allegedly partially hit by a strike on March 13, 2024(Mohammed Abed/AFP)

After the US, UNRWA’s biggest donor at $300-400 million a year, paused funding, the US Congress then suspended contributions until at least March 2025.

Meanwhile, the Dutch government on Friday said it would consider resuming funding for UNRWA if the agency implements recommendations to strengthen its neutrality.

The Dutch government said it had already given its yearly donation to UNRWA in January before the accusations against the agency came to light. It was one of several European countries that paused funding for the agency after the allegations were levied.

It said it did not foresee any additional donations in the near future but would consider UNRWA as a potential partner if requests for aid were made.

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