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What is the UNRWA’s response to the allegations made by Israel?


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A recent review of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has highlighted robust frameworks in place to ensure compliance with humanitarian neutrality principles, although challenges persist, potentially prompting some donors to reassess funding freezes. The report, released on Monday, addressed Israel’s claims, based on a staff list provided in March, alleging that a significant number of UNRWA staff were members of terrorist organizations.

Former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna led the UNRWA neutrality review, appointed by the United Nations in February following Israel’s allegations that 12 UNRWA staff participated in a Hamas-led raid on October 7. Israel escalated its accusations in March, claiming over 450 UNRWA staff were military operatives in Gaza.UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has accepted the recommendations from the independent review, urging all countries to actively support UNRWA as a crucial lifeline for Palestine refugees in the region. The report noted that Israel had made public claims about UNRWA staff’s alleged ties to terrorist organizations but had not provided supporting evidence.

Israel’s allegations led 16 states to pause or suspend funding of $450 million to UNRWA, impacting the agency’s operations in Gaza amidst the humanitarian crisis. UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini confirmed the termination of contracts for 10 of the 12 staff accused by Israel, with the remaining two deceased. UNRWA employs 32,000 individuals across its operations, with 13,000 in Gaza.

The review highlighted UNRWA’s efforts to maintain neutrality, sharing staff lists with relevant entities annually. Despite a robust framework, challenges persist, including staff expressing political views, problematic content in textbooks, and politicized staff unions disrupting operations. The report recommended continuous vetting processes, especially during staff promotions, emphasizing UNRWA’s irreplaceable role in Palestinian human and economic development.

As some states resume funding, requests for enhanced neutrality mechanisms and procedures, such as staff vetting and oversight, have been made. The United States, UNRWA’s major donor, paused funding following the Israeli allegations, with the US Congress suspending contributions until at least March 2025.

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