Watchdog group: UNRWA urging aid for Gaza victims using photo of Syrian girl
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Watchdog group: UNRWA urging aid for Gaza victims using photo of Syrian girl

UN agency appeals on behalf of Aya, 11, described as suffering from the blockade of Gaza all her life. But UN Watch says her picture was taken outside Damascus

A photo posted by UNRWA on Facebook of a girl identified as Gazan 'Aya'. However the group has previously described her on multiple occasions as a Syrian refugee (Facebook)
A photo posted by UNRWA on Facebook of a girl identified as Gazan 'Aya'. However the group has previously described her on multiple occasions as a Syrian refugee (Facebook)

A watchdog group accused the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees of dishonest tactics Friday, for claiming a photo of a girl in a bombed-out house in Syria was actually of a child in the Gaza Strip.

In a post to Facebook, on twitter and on its website, UNRWA used the photo of the girl, which it identified as “Aya,” claiming that she had suffered from Israel’s blockade of Gaza her entire life.

“Imagine being cut off from the world — for your whole life. That’s reality for children like Aya,” the UNRWA post said. “The blockade of Gaza began when she was a baby, the occupation in the West Bank before her parents were born. Now she is eleven, and the blockade goes on.

“Aya’s childhood memories are of conflict and hardship, walls she cannot escape, and the fear that the only home she knows, however tiny, could be gone when she returns from school. This Ramadan, please help support children like Aya who have known nothing but conflict and hardship.”

UNRWA also made the photo of Aya the cover image of its Facebook page.

UNRWA's Facebook page, with the photo of Aya as its cover photo, on June 2, 2017 (Facebook screenshot)
UNRWA’s Facebook page, with the photo of Aya as its cover photo, on June 2, 2017 (Facebook screenshot)

But the girl in the photo was not Gazan at all, UN Watch said. She was, in fact, Syrian, and had appeared in an UNRWA Twitter post in January 2015, it charged.

https://www.facebook.com/unrwa/photos/a.118302834882959.10295.105171192862790/1437191586327404/?type=3&theater

As noted by UN Watch, the photo of the girl appeared several times on UNRWA’s website, always in connection with the Syrian conflict.

In one case, the photo appeared with a caption, reading: “A young girl stands in the rubble of Qabr Essit, near Damascus. In 2014, UNRWA was able begin rebuilding facilities within the neighbourhood, including a school and community centre.”

UN Watch said it had demanded that UNRWA chief Pierre Krahenbuhl apologize for using the photo while “pretending the girl is a Gaza victim of Israeli actions.”

UNRWA has often been criticized by Israel and others for its role in the conflict.

In February a UN watch report showed that Palestinian UNRWA employees were using social media to support terror activities and spread anti-Semitism. That same month Israel demanded that the organization fire a teacher heading its employee union in Gaza, after he was allegedly elected to a senior Hamas post. By April he was no longer working for the UN.

In October 2015 UNRWA was forced to dismiss several employees over expressions of sympathy for attacks against Israelis.

During the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, the group acknowledged that stockpiles of Hamas rockets were repeatedly found in its Gaza schools. Israel has charged in the past that UNRWA ambulances were abused by Hamas gunmen.

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