UN Palestinian agency chief seeks probe into treatment of Gaza staff by Israel

By Thomson Reuters Apr 30, 2024 | 7:49 AM

GENEVA (Reuters) – The head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) called on Tuesday for countries to back an independent investigation into alleged killings and detentions of its staff and damage to its premises once the Israel-Hamas conflict ends.

UNRWA has accused Israel of targeting its facilities during more than seven months of conflict in the Gaza Strip, and said 182 of its staff there had been killed and more than 160 of its shelters hit, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people fleeing Israeli bombardment.

After briefing U.N. member states in Geneva, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini told reporters he wanted the countries to back an independent investigation “to look into this blatant disregard of the United Nations in order to avoid that this becomes also in the future the new standard.”

Lazzarini said Israel blocked him from entering Gaza last month, and that he plans to visit again on Sunday. He voiced hope that Israel would let him in.

UNRWA is the biggest humanitarian aid provider in Gaza where its 13,000 staff there also run schools and social services for the refugees who make up the majority of Gazans.

Israel accuses 19 of its staff members of taking part in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks against Israel that killed 1,200 people and triggered Israel’s military offensive.

Health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza say more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in the offensive, intended by Israel to eliminate the Palestinian militant group.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for UNRWA to be shut down, saying it seeks to preserve the issue of Palestinian refugees.

A review of the agency’s neutrality said Israel had yet to provide evidence for its accusations that a significant number of UNRWA staff were members of terrorist groups and Lazzarini said that all but a handful of countries had now unblocked funds they had paused after the Israeli allegations.

The agency has also raised $115 million in private funding, he said.

Another U.N. investigation into the allegations against UNRWA staff members is still under way.

Food and other humanitarian aid supplies to Gaza have improved in April, but there is still far from enough to reverse the trend towards famine, he said.

(Reporting by Emma Farge, Editing by Miranda Murray and Timothy Heritage)