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Probe finds flaws in UN Palestinian refugee agency

A preliminary investigation into UNRWA, the embattled United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, has found “critical areas” which need to be addressed, a UN spokesperson has said.

UNRWA was swept into controversy in January when Israel accused 12 of its 30,000 employees of being involved in the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October, which led to the deaths of around 1,160 people – mostly civilians – according to an AFP count based on official Israeli figures.

The UN immediately sacked the implicated staff members and launched an internal investigation to assess the agency’s neutrality, led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna.

An interim report found that “UNRWA has in place a significant number of mechanisms and procedures to ensure compliance with the Humanitarian Principle of neutrality,” said UN spokesperson Florencia Soto Nino.

But investigators, who presented their findings to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres yesterday, have “also identified critical areas that still need to be addressed.”

The areas in need of fixes were not specified.

“The review group will now develop concrete and realistic recommendations on how to address these critical areas to strengthen and improve UNRWA,” Soto Nino said.

She added that a final report on UNRWA will be presented to Mr Guterres on 20 April and will be made public.

Ms Colonna interviewed UNRWA staff as well as Israeli and Palestinian officials as part of the investigation, which is being supported by three research groups: the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden, the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Norway and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

Some 15 countries including the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan suspended funding to UNRWA following the Israeli allegations. Canada and Sweden, which were among those states, have since resumed sending aid to the agency.

UNRWA is the largest aid organisation in Gaza, employing around 13,000 staff in the territory where Israel’s bombardment has killed almost 32,000 people since October, according to figures from the territory’s health ministry.

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