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UN inquiry into UNRWA staff hopes to get material shortly from Israel

February 29, 2024 at 8:48 pm

Bags of flour are seen at the area where UNRWA (The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) distributes flour to families as Israeli attacks continue in Rafah of Gaza on January 28, 2024. [Abed Zagout – Anadolu Agency]

United Nations investigators expect to receive, shortly, materials from Israel related to its accusations that staff with the UN Palestinian refugee agency took part in the 7 October attacks by Hamas, a UN spokesman said on Thursday, Reuters reports.

The allegations became public five weeks ago when the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) announced it had fired some staff after Israel verbally provided the Agency with information. Israel had accused 12 staffers, of which nine were fired, the UN later said.

The independent, internal UN investigation by the Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) was immediately launched as the United States – the largest donor to UNRWA – and other countries paused funding following the allegations.

OIOS briefed UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, on Wednesday on its work over the past month, UN spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters on Thursday. Dujarric did not say when the investigation might be complete.

“The investigation remains ongoing. OIOS will continue to seek and to corroborate additional information and to compare the information obtained with materials held by Israeli authorities, which OIOS expects to receive shortly,” he said.

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“OIOS staff is planning to visit Israel soon to obtain information from Israeli authorities that may be relevant to the investigation. Cooperation with the OIOS investigation by Member States has, thus far, been adequate,” Dujarric added.

Guterres has described UNRWA 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” in the world body.

UNRWA employs 13,000 people in Gaza, running schools, its primary healthcare clinics and other social services and distributing humanitarian aid. Guterres has said some 3,000 are currently still working to deliver aid.

At least 576,000 people in the Gaza Strip – one quarter of the population – are one step away from famine, a senior UN aid official told the Security Council on Tuesday, warning that widespread famine could be “almost inevitable” without action.

The war in Gaza  began when Hamas fighters attacked Israel on 7 October, killing around 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s air and ground campaign in Gaza has since killed around 30,000 Palestinians, health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave say.

However, since then, it has been revealed by Haaretz that helicopters and tanks of the Israeli army had, in fact, killed many of the 1,139 soldiers and civilians claimed by Israel to have been killed by the Palestinian Resistance.

READ: International aid groups urge EU to resume funding for UN Agency for Palestinian refugees