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Israel fails to provide evidence for allegations against UNRWA staff: Report

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

Israel has failed to provide evidence of claims that some workers with the UN relief agency UNRWA were affiliated with Palestinian resistance movements, an independent review for the UN says.

The review, by an independent panel led by ex-French minister Catherine Colonna and published on Monday, underscored the lack of substantiation for broader allegations made by Israel that accused numerous UNRWA employees of affiliation with Hamas or Islamic Jihad resistance groups.

“Israeli authorities have to date not provided any supporting evidence nor responded to letters from UNRWA in March, and again in April, requesting the names and supporting evidence that would enable UNRWA to open an investigation,” the report stated.

The Colonna report, which was commissioned by the UN in the wake of Israeli allegations, found that UNRWA has consistently supplied employee lists to Israel for vetting and that Israel "has not informed UNRWA of any concerns relating to any UNRWA staff based on these staff lists since 2011.”

The Colonna report also deemed UNRWA indispensable for providing essential humanitarian aid and services.

“In the absence of a political solution between Israel and the Palestinians, UNRWA remains pivotal in providing life-saving humanitarian aid and essential social services, particularly in health and education, to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank,” it said.

Following Israel’s allegations, Major donors cut their funding to the agency in January, which is the primary source of humanitarian aid not only to Gaza but also to Palestinian refugees throughout the region.

Israeli authorities, without providing evidence, claim that at least 12 UNWRA staff participated in the Oct. 7 operation against Israel and that they used UN vehicles. 

US financial support of UNRWA has been blocked for at least a year in the wake of the allegations. UK ministers have also said they would wait for the Colonna report to make a decision on resuming funding.

Most of the donor nations have resumed their funding in recent weeks.

The funding was cut despite the dire needs of 2.3 million people in Gaza, most of whom have been forced from their homes by the Israeli savage military campaign since 7 October.

Commenting on the report, Louis Charbonneau, the UN director at Human Rights Watch, said: “I don’t think the findings in the Colonna report are particularly surprising. Governments who haven’t should immediately resume full funding to UNRWA so it can deliver aid to desperate civilians. Many Palestinians are facing famine because of Israel’s use of starvation as a weapon of war.”

Palestinians continue to endure a US-Israeli genocidal war in the besieged Gaza strip, the scene of death and destruction on a daily basis.

At least 34,097 Palestinians have been killed; most of them women and children, and another 76,980 individuals have sustained injuries. More than 1.7 million people have been internally displaced during the war as well.

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