UN chief names independent panel to assess UNRWA agency in Gaza

AFP , Ahram Online , Monday 5 Feb 2024

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres announced Monday the creation of an independent panel to assess UNRWA, its embattled agency tasked with helping Palestinian refugees.

A Palestinian woman walks in front of the entrance of the UNRWA-run University College for Education
A Palestinian woman walks in front of the entrance of the UNRWA-run University College for Educational Science Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank on January 29, 2024. AFP


UNRWA is under fire over accusations by Israel that 12 staff members were involved in the Hamas Al-Aqsa Flood operation on Israeli targets on October 7.

More than a dozen countries, including the United States, Germany, Britain and Sweden, have suspended funding to the agency

However, other donor European countries, including France, Norway, and Spain, have refused to suspend their funding to UNRWA, citing the dire need for humanitarian assistance to the population in Gaza

The new independent panel will be led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna, who will work with three European research organizations, the UN said in a statement.

The goal of the probe is to "assess whether the agency is doing everything within its power to ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations of serious breaches when they are made."

The panel is due to submit an interim report to Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, in late March, and then a final one in late April, with, if necessary, recommendations for "improvement and strengthening" of the agency's mechanisms.

This assessment is separate from an internal probe that the United Nations launched last month after the accusations were first made against the 12 UNRWA employees.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that the UN agency had been "totally infiltrated" by the group, which has ruled Gaza since 2007.

Vowing to eliminate Hamas, Israel launched a massive military offensive that has killed at least 27,478 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory's health ministry.

The European groups helping in this independent assessment of UNRWA are the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden, the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Norway, and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

UNRWA stands for United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

The Secretary-General notes that these accusations come at a time when UNRWA, the largest UN organization in the region, is working under extremely challenging conditions to deliver life-saving assistance to the 2 million people in the Gaza Strip who depend on it for their survival amidst one of the largest and most complex humanitarian crises in the world.

Israel’s latest allegations against UNRWA have triggered a global backlash but does the intelligence behind them stand up?

In a video report, Al Jazeera's The Listening Post debunked Israeli allegations against the UNRWA and Western complicity in starving the people of Gaza

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