UN inquiry into UNRWA staff hopes to get material shortly from Israel

By Thomson Reuters Feb 29, 2024 | 1:22 PM

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – United Nations investigators expect to receive shortly materials from Israel related to its accusations that staff with the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency took part in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas militants, a U.N. spokesman said on Thursday.

The allegations became public five weeks ago when the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) announced it had fired some staff after Israel verbally provided the agency with information. Israel had accused 12 staffers, of which nine were fired, the U.N. later said.

The independent, internal U.N. investigation by the Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) was immediately launched as the United States – the largest donor to UNRWA – and other countries paused funding following the allegations.

OIOS briefed U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday on its work over the past month, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Thursday. Dujarric did not say when the investigation might be complete.

“The investigation remains ongoing. OIOS will continue to seek and to corroborate additional information and to compare the information obtained with materials held by Israeli authorities, which OIOS expects to receive shortly,” he said.

“OIOS staff are planning to visit Israel soon to obtain information from Israeli authorities that may be relevant to the investigation. Cooperation with the OIOS investigation by Member States has thus far been adequate,” Dujarric added.

Guterres has described UNRWA as “the backbone of all humanitarian response in Gaza” and pledged to act immediately on any new information from Israel related to “infiltration of Hamas” in the world body.

UNRWA employs 13,000 people in Gaza, running schools, its primary healthcare clinics and other social services, and distributing humanitarian aid. Guterres has said some 3,000 are currently still working to deliver aid.

At least 576,000 people in the Gaza Strip – one quarter of the population – are one step away from famine, a senior U.N. aid official told the Security Council on Tuesday, warning that widespread famine could be “almost inevitable” without action.

The war in Gaza began when Hamas fighters attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s air and ground campaign in Gaza has since killed around 30,000 Palestinians, health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave say.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)