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Israel did not show evidence against UN agency officials, report says

Israel has not yet presented evidence of the accusations it made that hundreds of employees of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) are members of terrorist groups, according to an analysis of the agency released on Monday (22).

This may cause some countries that donated to the organization to review the funding freeze.

The United Nations appointed former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna to lead the review of UNRWA's ability to ensure neutrality and respond to allegations of violations.

This happened after Israel accused 12 agency employees of participating in the October 7 attacks led by Hamas, which triggered the conflict in Gaza.

Carried out by internal UN investigators, a separate investigation looks into Israeli allegations against the 12 UNRWA employees. The UN said last week that the UN Office of Domestic Oversight Services had “a series of meetings and cooperation with Israeli authorities on the matter”.

UNRWA provides education, healthcare and aid to millions of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The report states that the agency shares employee lists with the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Also according to the analysis, Israel had not raised any concerns with the body based on these lists of employees since 2011. Then, in March 2024, “Israel made public allegations that a significant number of UNRWA employees were members of terrorist organizations” .

“However, Israel has not yet provided evidence to prove this,” warns the document.

The country intensified its accusations in March, alleging that more than 450 UNRWA personnel were military agents of Gaza-based terrorist groups. The agency employs 32,000 people in its area of ​​operations, 13,000 of them in Gaza.

This Monday, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Oren Marmorstein accused more than 2,135 employees of being members of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

He highlighted that Colonna's analysis of UNRWA was insufficient and constituted an “effort to avoid the problem and not address it head on”.

“The Colonna report ignores the seriousness of the problem and offers cosmetic solutions that do not address the enormous scope of Hamas's infiltration of UNRWA,” the spokesperson said.

He added that Israel asks nations not to give money to UNRWA in Gaza and instead fund other humanitarian organizations in the Palestinian territory.

“Salvation”

Colonna told reporters that she maintained good relations with Israel during the investigation, but was not surprised by the Israeli response. She said she had appealed to Israel to “please take this into consideration; Whatever we recommend — if implemented — will bring benefits.”

Asked about Marmorstein's comment, UNRWA Communications Director Juliette Touma said: “We encourage Member States that have this information to share it with the ongoing investigation and not with the media.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres accepted the recommendations, his spokesman said, calling on all countries to support UNRWA as it is “a lifeline for Palestinian refugees in the region.”

The Israeli accusations prompted 16 countries to pause or suspend $450 million in funding to the agency, a blow to an organization fighting the humanitarian crisis sweeping Gaza since Israel launched its offensive in the region.

UNRWA reported that 10 of these countries have resumed funding, but the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Lithuania have not. A UN spokesperson highlighted that the body currently has sufficient funds to pay for operations until June.

Following the allegations against the agents, the United States, the agency's largest donor, providing between US$300 million and US$400 million per year, halted funding and then the US Congress suspended contributions until at least March 2025.

“Robust structure”

Israel has been criticizing the agency, founded in 1949 to care for Palestinian refugees, for some time. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for the closure of UNRWA, saying it seeks to preserve the issue of Palestinian refugees.

UNRWA says it has terminated the contracts of 10 of the 12 employees accused by Israel of involvement in the October 7 attacks, and that the other two are dead.

Colonna's analysis noted that the agency has “a more developed approach” to neutrality than other similar UN or humanitarian aid groups.

“Despite this robust structure, issues related to neutrality persist,” he concluded.

According to the report, these include some employees publicly expressing political opinions, textbooks with problematic content being used in some UNRWA schools, and politicized employee unions making threats against the agency's management and disrupting operations.

In Gaza, challenges to the agency's neutrality included the size of the operation, with the majority of staff being both recruited and also beneficiaries of the agency's services, the report highlights.

UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini said on Monday that it is developing an action plan to take forward the recommendations of the Colonna review.

“The recommendations in this report will further strengthen our efforts and our response during one of the most difficult moments in the history of the Palestinian people,” he said.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry highlighted that the recommendations “to improve UNRWA’s already high standards of impartiality, humanity and neutrality” were important and called on donors who had stopped funding to “urgently reconsider their decisions”.

Source: CNN Brasil

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