Updated April 22nd, 2024 at 23:06 IST

Israel Never Previously Expressed Concern About Staff Hired by the UNRWA, Independent Review Finds

Israel alleged that 12 members of the UN refugee agency were involved in the October 7 attack carried out by Hamas and its affiliates, prompting the review.

The review noted that Israel, thus far, has not provided any evidence to back up its claims about the UNRWA. | Image:AP
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United Nations: An independent review of the neutrality of the UN agency helping Palestinian refugees found that Israel never expressed concern about anyone on the staff lists it has received annually since 2011. The review was carried out after Israel alleged that a dozen employees of the agency known as UNRWA had participated in Hamas’ October 7 attacks.

In a wide-ranging 48-page report released Monday, the independent panel said UNRWA has “robust” procedures to uphold the UN principle of neutrality, but it cited serious gaps in implementation, including staff publicly expressing political views, textbooks with “problematic content” and staff unions disrupting operations.

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From 2017 to 2022, the report said the annual number of allegations of neutrality being breached at UNRWA ranged from 7 to 55. But between January 2022 and February 2024 UN investigators received 151 allegations, most related to social media posts “made public by external sources," it said.

In a key section on the neutrality of staff, the panel, which was led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, said UNRWA shares lists of staff with host countries for its 32,000 staff, including about 13,000 in Gaza.

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But it said Israeli officials never expressed concern and informed panel members it did not consider the list “a screening or vetting process” but rather a procedure to register diplomats.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry informed the panel that until March 2024, the staff lists did not include Palestinian identification numbers, the report said.

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Apparently based on those numbers, “Israel made public claims that a significant number of UNRWA employees are members of terrorist organisations,” the panel said. “However, Israel has yet to provide supporting evidence of this.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ordered the UN internal watchdog, the Office of Internal Oversight Services, to carry out a separate investigation into the Israeli allegations that 12 UNRWA staffers participated in the October 7 attacks. That report is eagerly awaited.

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In its interim report on March 20, the panel noted UNRWA’s “significant number of mechanisms and procedures to ensure compliance with the humanitarian principles of neutrality,” but also identified “critical areas that need to be addressed.”

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Published April 22nd, 2024 at 23:06 IST