Israel has yet to provide evidence of Unrwa staff terrorist links, Colonna report says

Julian Borger

Israel “has yet to provide supporting evidence” of its claims that employees of the UN relief agency Unrwa are members of terrorist organisations, an independent review led by the former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna has said.

The Colonna report, which was commissioned by the UN in the wake of Israeli allegations, found that Unrwa had regularly supplied Israel with lists of its employees for vetting but that “the Israeli government has not informed Unrwa of any concerns relating to any Unrwa staff based on these staff lists since 2011”.

Israeli allegations of the involvement of Unrwa staff in the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel 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.

The funding was cut despite the dire needs of 2.3 million people in Gaza, most of whom have been forced from their homes by the Israeli offensive and have been struggling since then to find water, food, shelter or medical care.

Most of the donor nations have resumed their funding in recent weeks. UK ministers had said they would wait for the Colonna report to make a decision on resuming funding, but US financial support of Unrwa has been permanently banned by Congress since the allegations were made.

A separate investigation is being carried out into the 7 October attack by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services.

The Colonna review, which was drafted with the help of three Nordic research institutes and is due to be published later on Monday, makes clear that Israel has yet to substantiate any of its broader claims about the involvement of Unrwa staff in Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

It notes that in March “Israel made public claims that a significant number of Unrwa employees are members of terrorist organisations”.

“However, Israel has yet to provide supporting evidence of this,” the report says.

The review makes clear that Unrwa is “indispensable” to Palestinians across the region.

“In the absence of a political solution between Israel and the Palestinians, Unrwa remains pivotal in providing life-saving humanitarian aid and essential social services, particularly in health and education, to Palestinian refugees in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank,” the review says.

“As such, Unrwa is irreplaceable and indispensable to Palestinians’ human and economic development. In addition, many view Unrwa as a humanitarian lifeline.”

The Colonna review suggests a number of ways that neutrality safeguards for Unrwa’s more than 32,000 staff could be improved, but it notes that they are already more rigorous than most other comparable institutions.

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

(Source: The Guardian)