UN Secretary-General Appoints Independent Panel to Examine UNRWA's Operations

Several reports have pointed out that Israel has not provided any evidence linking UNRWA personnel to the October 7 Hamas attack.

New Delhi: UN Secretary-General António Guterres has appointed an independent panel to examine the operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), in response to allegations linking 12 UNRWA personnel to Hamas’s attacks against Israel on October 7, 2023.

UNRWA has more than 13,000 staff in Gaza.

The panel was set up in consultation with UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini and will be led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna, UN News reported. It will begin working from February 14 and an interim report is expected to be submitted to Guterres in late March. The final report, which will be made public, is expected to be completed by late April, according to UN News.

The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services is already probing the allegations that 12 UNRWA personnel were involved in the October 7 attack, and the independent panel’s probe will in parallel.

After Israel accused UNRWA staff of being involved with Hamas, nine Western countries withdrew their funding for the agency. Given the scale of destruction in Gaza due to Israel’s ongoing attacks which it claims are ‘retaliation’ – and which the International Court of Justice is probing on grounds of ‘genocide’ – UNRWA’s relief work has been viewed as providing essential humanitarian relief. Lazzarini had said this funding suspension is “shocking” as “the lives of people in Gaza depends on this support”.

Channel 4 News, the British public broadcaster, has raised questions on Israel’s dossier against UNRWA personnel, saying it is just six pages long and “provides no evidence to support its explosive new claim that UNRWA staff were involved in the terror attacks on Israel”.

The Financial Times too raised similar questions in a report, stating, “The intelligence assessment, which has been seen by the FT, provides no evidence for the claims, which it says are based on smartphone intercepts and captured identity cards.”

“The accusations come at a time when UNRWA, the largest UN organisation in the region, is working under extremely challenging conditions to deliver lifesaving assistance to the two million people in the Gaza Strip who depend on it for their survival amidst one of the largest and most complex humanitarian crises in the world,” Guterres said. He added that since Israel had made these accusations, the country’s cooperation would be required during the probe.

UNRWA has been highlighting the scale of devastation in the Gaza Strip, including the destruction of its own health centres. In a video posted to X recently, the agency highlighted that “there is nothing left”. In the north of the strip, UNRWA said, “the scale of destruction and loss is staggering”.

The UN has said that more than 100,000 Palestinians have been killed, wounded or are missing in Gaza since Israel’s post-October 7 military action began.