UN chief names independent panel to assess UNRWA agency in Gaza

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres announced on Monday the creation of an independent panel to assess UNRWA, its embattled agency tasked with helping Palestinian refugees.

UNRWA, (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) is under fire over accusations by Israel that 12 staff members were involved in the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Photo: EPA-EFE

The new independent panel will be led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna, who will work with three European research organisations, the UN said in a statement.

The goal of the investigation is to “assess whether the agency is doing everything within its power to ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations of serious breaches when they are made.”

What is UNRWA, the main aid provider in Gaza that Israel accuses of militant links?

The panel is due to submit an interim report to Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, in late March, and then a final one in late April, with, if necessary, recommendations for “improvement and strengthening” of the agency’s mechanisms.

This assessment is separate from an internal investigation that the United Nations launched last month after the accusations were first made against the 12 UNRWA employees.
The October 7 attack by Hamas resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an Agence France-Presse tally based on official figures.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that the UN agency had been “totally infiltrated” by the group, which has ruled Gaza since 2007.

Vowing to eliminate Hamas, Israel launched a massive military offensive that has killed at least 27,478 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-ruled territory’s health ministry.

The European groups helping in this independent assessment of UNRWA are the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden, the Chr Michelsen Institute (CMI) in Norway, and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

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