Israel failed to provide evidence of UNRWA staff link to Hamas: Colonna report

Israel failed to provide evidence of UNRWA staff link to Hamas: Colonna report
Israeli authorities have not provided "any supporting evidence" to back up allegations that UNRWA staff are part of Hamas, a review has found
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UNRWA has been key to providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza amid Israel's war on the enclave [Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu/Getty]

Israeli authorities have not provided any supporting evidence to back their allegations against employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) after accusing them of ties with Hamas  a review by French foreign minister Catherine Colonna said on Monday.

Israel made the allegations after Hamas carried out a surprise attack against it on October 7 and its war on Gaza began.

The report, which was commissioned by the UN, found that UNRWA regularly supplied Israel with a list of its employees for vetting, and said that Israel had not raised any concerns over any of the organisation's staff since 2011.

The findings come after Israel claimed that 12 UNRWA staff had taken part in the 7 October attack.

The allegations prompted Western allies of Israel to cut off their funding to the agency, which is a lifeline for Palestinians in Gaza and Palestinian refugees across the region.

Several countries, including Canada and Finland, lifted the suspensions shortly after, citing a lack of evidence for Israel's allegations.

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The report found that "Israeli authorities have to date not provided any supporting evidence nor responded to letters from UNRWA in March, and again in April, requesting the names and supporting evidence that would enable UNRWA to open an investigation."

A more detailed assessment was also sent to the UN by the Swedish-based Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, the Norwegian Chr Michelsen Institute, and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

Following the publication of the report, the UN chief spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, called for further support of the organisation.

"Moving forward, the Secretary-General appeals to all stakeholders to actively support UNRWA, as it is a lifeline for Palestine refugees in the region,” Dujarric said. 

The Colonna review highlighted ways further safeguards could be put in place, including expanding the capacity of the internal oversight service of UNRWA and providing more in-person training. 

"UNRWA is irreplaceable and indispensable to Palestinians' human and economic development. In addition, many review UNRWA as a humanitarian lifeline," the report states.

The review also found that while UNRWA has a duty of due diligence to ensure neutrality, host countries are responsible for policing, security and intelligence with regards to the organisation's premises and staff.

It also said that UNRWA it has robust frameworks to ensure compliance with humanitarian neutrality principles, though some issues persist.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said on Monday that he accepted the recommendations from the Colonna report on the ways to improve UNRWA's capacity and address neutrality issues.