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1 case dismissed, 4 on hold in UN investigation into Oct. 7 allegations against UNRWA staff

NEW YORK CITY: UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Friday that the organization’s internal oversight body has been investigating 19 employees of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees over allegations that they were affiliated with Hamas and other militant groups.

Israeli authorities alleged in January that 12 UNRWA workers participated in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas against Israel.

The agency immediately cut ties with the named individuals, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in consultation with UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini, ordered an independent review to evaluate the measures taken by the agency to ensure adherence to the principle of neutrality and how it responds to allegations of breaches of neutrality, particularly in the challenging context of the situation in Gaza.

In a wide-ranging report published this week, the investigators, led by Catherine Colonna, a former foreign minister of France, said Israeli authorities have yet to provide any evidence to support the allegations against UNRWA workers. They also noted that Israel had not previously raised concerns about any individuals named on the agency staffing lists it has been receiving since 2011.

They stated in the report: “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.

“As such, UNRWA is irreplaceable and indispensable to Palestinians’ human and economic development. In addition, many view UNRWA as a humanitarian lifeline.”

Guterres also ordered a separate investigation by the UN’s own Office of Internal Oversight Services to determine the accuracy of the Israeli allegations. The mandate of the OIOS, an independent office within the UN Secretariat, is to assist the secretary-general in the handling of UN resources and staff through the provision of internal audit, investigation, inspection and evaluation services.

Dujarric said the 19 members of UNRWA staff under investigation included the 12 named by the Israeli allegations in January, whose contracts were immediately terminated, and seven others the UN subsequently received information about, five in March and two in April.

Of the 12 employees identified by Israeli authorities in January, eight remain under OIOS investigation, Dujarric said. One case was dismissed for lack of evidence and corrective administrative action is being explored, he added, and three cases were suspended because “the information provided by Israel is not sufficient for OIOS to proceed with an investigation. UNRWA is considering what administrative action to take while they are under investigation.”

Regarding the seven additional cases brought to the attention of the UN, one has been suspended “pending receipt of additional supporting evidence,” Dujarric said.

“The remaining six of those cases are currently under investigation by OIOS. OIOS has informed us that its investigators had traveled to Israel for discussions with the Israeli authorities and will undertake another visit during May.

“These discussions are continuing and have so far been productive and have enabled progress on the investigations.”

The initial allegations against some members of its staff threw the agency, which provides aid and other services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza and across the region, into crisis. The US, the biggest single funder of UNRWA, and several other major donors put their contributions to the organization on hold.

In all, 16 UN member states suspended or paused donations, while others imposed conditions on further contributions, putting the future of the agency in doubt. Many of the countries, including Germany, later said their funding would resume. However, US donations remain on hold.

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