Israel has yet to provide evidence to support its claims that staff at the UN humanitarian agency Unrwa are members of terrorist organizations, an independent review led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna has said.

The Colonna report, commissioned by the UN in the wake of the Israeli allegations, concluded that Unrwa had regularly provided Israel with lists of its employees for verification and that “the Israeli government did not inform Unrwa of any concerns relating to any Unrwa employee. based on these personnel lists since 2011”.

Allegations of involvement by Unrwa officials in the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 led major donors in January to cut their funding to the agency, the main channel of humanitarian support not only to Palestinians in Gaza, but to Palestinian refugee communities across the region.

Funding was cut despite the dire needs of 2.3 million people in Gaza, most of whom have been forced to flee their homes by the Israeli offensive since October 7 and have struggled to find water, food, shelter or medical care.

Most donor countries have resumed their funding in recent weeks. UK ministers said they would wait for the Colonna report to make a decision on resuming funding. US financial support for Unrwa was blocked by Congress for at least a year following the allegations.

On Monday, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Oren Marmorstein accused more than 2,135 Unrwa workers of being members of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He said Colonna’s review was insufficient and an “effort to avoid the problem and not address it head on.”

“The Colonna report ignores the seriousness of the problem and offers cosmetic solutions that do not address the enormous scope of Hamas’ infiltration of Unrwa,” he said.

He added that Israel appeals to donors not to give money to Unrwa in Gaza and instead fund other humanitarian organizations in the territory.

Colonna told reporters that she had good relations with Israel during the review, but was not surprised by the Israeli response. She said she appealed to Israel to “please accept this, everything we recommend – if implemented – will bring benefits.”

Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, said: “I don’t think the Colonna report’s findings are particularly surprising. Governments that have not done so should immediately resume full funding to Unrwa so that it can provide aid to desperate civilians. Many Palestinians face starvation due to Israel’s use of hunger as a weapon of war.”

A separate investigation into the October 7 attack is being carried out by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services. The UN said the inquiry has not yet been completed.

Colonna’s review, an assessment of Unrwa’s neutrality drawn up with the help of three Nordic research institutes and due to be published later on Monday, makes clear that Israel has not yet substantiated any of its broader claims about U.S. involvement. Unrwa people in Hamas or Islam. Jihad.

It notes that in March “Israel made public statements that a significant number of Unrwa employees are members of terrorist organizations.” “However, Israel has not yet provided evidence of this,” the report says.

Along with the Colonna report, a more detailed assessment was sent to the UN by the three Nordic investigative bodies – the Sweden-based Raoul Wallenberg Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, the Norwegian Chr Michelsen Institute and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

Its report says: “To date, the Israeli authorities have not provided any supporting evidence or responded to letters from Unrwa in March, and again in April, requesting the names and supporting evidence that would allow Unrwa to open an investigation.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday that he accepted the Colonna report’s recommendations on ways to improve UNRWA’s capacity to monitor and address neutrality issues.

“Going forward, the Secretary-General calls on all stakeholders to actively support Unrwa as it is a lifeline for Palestinian refugees in the region,” UN chief spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement .

Colonna’s review makes clear that Unrwa is “indispensable” for Palestinians across the region.

“In the absence of a political solution between Israel and the Palestinians, Unrwa continues to be instrumental in providing vital humanitarian aid and essential social services, particularly in health and education, to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank .” says the review. “As such, Unrwa is irreplaceable and indispensable for the human and economic development of Palestinians. Furthermore, many see Unrwa as a humanitarian lifeline.”

Colonna’s review suggests several ways to improve neutrality safeguards for Unrwa’s more than 32,000 employees, such as expanding the capacity of the internal oversight service, providing more in-person training and more support from donor countries. But it notes that they are already more rigorous than most other comparable institutions.

“The assessment revealed that Unrwa has established a significant number of mechanisms and procedures to ensure compliance with humanitarian principles, with an emphasis on the principle of neutrality, and that it has a more developed approach to neutrality than other similar UN or NGO entities,” he said. . it says.

One of Israel’s frequent criticisms of Unrwa is that its schools across the region use Palestinian Authority textbooks with anti-Semitic content. The technical report provided by the Nordic institutions, however, found very limited evidence of these claims.

“Three international assessments of PA textbooks in recent years have provided a nuanced picture,” the report says. “Two identified the presence of prejudice and antagonistic content, but did not provide evidence of anti-Semitic content. The third evaluation, carried out by the Georg Eckert Institute [com sede na Alemanha]studied 156 AP textbooks and identified two examples that he found to have anti-Semitic motifs, but noted that one of them had already been removed, the other had been changed.”

The absence so far of evidence to support Israel’s claims has raised questions about donor countries’ hasty decision to cut millions of dollars in funding to Unrwa as the death toll in Gaza rose, the health system collapsed and hunger began to threaten.

Published by The Guardian, on April 22, 2024


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