UNRWA welcomes independent investigation into Israeli allegations amid global warnings against suspension of its funding

AFP , Ahram Online , Wednesday 31 Jan 2024

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees said on Wednesday that it is "extremely important" to conduct an independent investigation into Israeli allegations that 12 of its employees were involved in the October 7 Hamas operation against Israeli targets.

Tamara Alrifai
File Photo: UNRWA spokesperson Tamara Alrifai. Photo courtesy of Tamara Alrifai.


Important donors -- among them Britain, Germany, Japan and the United States -- have announced their suspension of aid to UNRWA following Israel's allegations.

Norway, one of the few major donors to have maintained aid to the embattled UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, warned other donors Wednesday of the consequences of suspending funding,  according to Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide.

"We have 33,000 people... so it is extremely important for us to really have an independent investigation into these specific individual cases that Israel brought to our attention," UNRWA spokesperson Tamara Alrifai told AFP.

"We received allegations from the Israeli government over 12 names in Gaza, we had to check those names against our records of 13,000 staff in Gaza, and we were able to match eight of these names," Alrifai said.

UNRWA, which provides aid to around two million people in Gaza, announced that it had fired most of the accused employees.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called his organization's Palestinian refugee agency the "backbone" of Gaza aid on Wednesday.

"Yesterday, I met with donors to listen to their concerns and to outline the steps we are taking to address them... UNRWA is the backbone of all humanitarian response in Gaza," Guterres told a UN committee on Palestinian rights.

The World Health Organization's emergencies director Michael Ryan said on Wednesday that the population of Gaza is starving to death due to constraints imposed on humanitarian aid.

"This is a population that is starving to death, this is a population that is being pushed to the brink and they are not parties to this conflict... and they should be protected, as should be their health facilities," Ryan told a press conference.

The Israeli government on Tuesday accused the UN agency of being "fundamentally compromised" by "letting its infrastructure be used for Hamas military activity".

Israel also accused the agency of "hiring terrorists on a massive scale", according to government spokesperson Eylon Levy.

He did not provide any evidence for the accusations.

Alrifai said "15 countries so far have announced freezing their funding contributions to UNRWA", saying that if donors "maintain their decision, the impact will be catastrophic on the people of Gaza.

Gaza is under siege by Israel and facing a major humanitarian crisis, with entire neighbourhoods destroyed by bombing.

According to the UN, 1.7 million of Gaza's 2.4 million inhabitants were forced to flee their homes.

"The impact will be catastrophic on the people of Gaza right now as the war continues, as the displacement continues, as people are mostly in UNRWA shelters receiving wheat flour from UNRWA to make bread, receiving medical services from UNRWA," Alrifai said.

But she said that UNRWA received "expressions of support... to the work of the agency" in recent days from some of the donors who had suspended aid.

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