EU humanitarian chief Lenarcic says no evidence presented by Israel on UNRWA allegations

EU humanitarian chief Lenarcic says no evidence presented by Israel on UNRWA allegations
His comments come following announcements by Canada and Sweden that it would resume funding to UNRWA after suspending funding earlier in January.
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Janez Lenarcic said that he hadn't been presented with any evidence by Israel over it's accusations against UNRWA staff [Photo by Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu via Getty Images]

The European Union's top humanitarian aid official said on Thursday he had seen no evidence from Israel to back its accusations against staff from the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), which should continue playing a "critical" role in Gaza.

UNRWA, which provides aid and services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza and across the region, has been in crisis since Israel accused a dozen of its staff of involvement in the 7 October Hamas attacks against Israel which killed around 1,200 people, with more than 250 being taken captive.

The allegations prompted UNRWA's biggest donor, the United States, and some others to pause funding, putting the agency's future in doubt.

The head of UNRWA earlier this month expressed cautious optimism that some donors would soon return, though US officials said Washington's pause in funding might become permanent due to opposition in Congress.

The EU's executive Commission is a leading UNRWA donor after the United States. It said on 1 March it would pay 50 million euros to the agency, but hold back 32 million euros while it deals with the Israeli allegations.

Janez Lenarcic, the head of humanitarian aid and crisis management at the European Commission, said that neither he nor - according to his knowledge - anybody else at the EU executive, or any other UNRWA donor had been presented with evidence by Israel.

"Even if those allegations, at the end of the day, prove to be true, that doesn't mean that UNRWA is the perpetrator," he told journalists.

In that case, Lenarcic said individual accountability would be in order rather than summary justice - and the "irreplaceable" agency would be asked to clean up and carry on.

"UNRWA has reacted properly, immediately, effectively. It took several measures. There is an investigation. There is a review. We are satisfied so far with all this," said Lenarcic.

"UNRWA has of course a critical role to play here because it has unmatched infrastructure, warehouses, shelters, logistical capacities."

Gaza health officials said on Thursday that more than 100,000 Palestinian had been killed or wounded since Israel launched its military offensive on the enclave.

The conflict in the Middle East exposed divisions in the European Union between countries including Ireland, Spain and Belgium whose governments have been more sympathetic towards the Palestinians, and those of Germany and Hungary who have sided more with Israel. 

(Reuters & The New Arab Staff)