Apr 22, 2024 - World

Report says Israel hasn't proved alleged widespread UNRWA staff links to Hamas

Palestinians receive flour distributed by The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Gaza

Palestinians receive flour distributed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Gaza on Mar. 03, 2024. Photo: Ashraf Amra/Anadolu via Getty Images)

A UN-appointed independent commission of inquiry said in its report published on Monday that "Israel has yet to provide supporting evidence" to its claim that many of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) staff in Gaza are members of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad terrorist organizations.

Why it matters: The inquiry was launched in response to allegations from Israel that 12 of UNRWA's employees were involved in the attack. More than a dozen countries that support the organization's work, including the U.S., suspended their funding as a result.

  • The agency has for decades been the main organization that delivers humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza.

Driving the news: After the initial Israeli allegations about the 12 employees, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres announced an internal UN investigation into the alleged involvement of UNRWA staffers in the Oct. 7 attack. That investigation is ongoing.

  • Guterres also launched an independent inquiry that focused on broader questions about UNRWA's performance, management and neutrality in Gaza. The investigation, which released its report today, was headed by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna.
  • "Israel made public claims that a significant number of UNRWA employees are members of terrorist organizations. However, Israel has yet to provide supporting evidence of this," the report said.

What they're saying: The report said UNRWA has shared its staff lists, which included names and functions, with the Israeli government since 2011 so that Israel can alert UNRWA of any information that may disqualify a staff member from getting diplomatic immunity.

  • The Israeli government has not informed UNRWA of any concerns relating to any UNRWA staff based on these lists since 2011, the report says.
  • The report adds that in meetings with Colonna's team, Israeli officials said they didn't consider the sharing of the staff list to be a security screening or vetting process, but "a standard procedure for the registration of UN and diplomatic staff to ensure their privileges and immunities."
  • The Israeli Foreign Ministry also told the commission of inquiry they had received staff lists without identification numbers, hindering their ability to assess the list. In March 2024, UNRWA gave the Israeli government a list that contained staff ID numbers, which was the basis for Israel's claims, the report said.

The other side: Israeli foreign ministry officials said the report didn't contain specific information they gave to Colonna and her staff about the number of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members Israel alleges are employed by UNRWA and the use of the agency's facilities by both organizations.

  • Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oren Marmorstein claimed in a statement Monday that more than 2,135 UNRWA workers are members of either Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad and alleged one-fifth of UNRWA school administrators are Hamas members.
  • "Hamas has infiltrated UNRWA so deeply that it is no longer possible to determine where UNRWA ends and where Hamas begins," he said, adding that the report "ignores the severity of the problem, and offers cosmetic solutions."
  • Marmorstein said Israel calls on the donor countries to refrain from transferring their taxpayers' money to UNRWA in Gaza and to transfer their funds to other humanitarian organizations in Gaza.

Many donor countries, including Canada, Australia, Germany, France and Japan, have recently resumed funding to UNRWA.

  • A government funding bill approved by Congress in March bans the U.S. from funding the relief agency until at least 2025.
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