update deskOctober 7

Head of UN probe into UNRWA ‘neutrality’ in Israel to amass evidence

Officials will present former French FM Catherine Colonna with evidence of the agency's terror ties.

French diplomat Catherine Colonna meets with Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Kobi Blitstein in Jerusalem, March 11, 2024. Photo by Yafit Ilyaguyev/Foreign Ministry.
French diplomat Catherine Colonna meets with Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Kobi Blitstein in Jerusalem, March 11, 2024. Photo by Yafit Ilyaguyev/Foreign Ministry.

Former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna arrived in Israel on Monday as part of an investigation she is leading into the neutrality of UNRWA.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres established the investigative committee in early February following Jerusalem’s revelations that UNRWA employees participated in the Hamas-led massacre of Oct. 7 and that many members of terrorist groups in Gaza are on the U.N. agency’s payroll.

Colonna met with Foreign Ministry Director-General Kobi Blitstein. She will be presented with intelligence material “indicating the extent and depth of the involvement of Hamas operatives in the agency,” the ministry in Jerusalem said.

She will be shown information about the terrorist activities of UNRWA employees, the storing and launching of rockets at UNRWA facilities in the Gaza Strip and the locations of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror tunnels underneath and near UNRWA facilities.

In addition, Israeli officials will provide examples of incitement to violence against Jews and Israel and antisemitic content prevalent at UNRWA schools and summer camps over the years and the failure of UNRWA representatives to act on the evidence.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz welcomed Colonna’s arrival and said that Jerusalem is fully cooperating with the investigation, adding that he hopes that she includes the Israeli evidence in her report.

“The minister further said that UNRWA is part of the problem and will not be part of the solution in Gaza, and expressed his expectation that following the visit, all the researchers involved in writing the report will come to Israel, so that they can see for themselves the testimonies and the large amount of information, directly,” the statement said.

Colonna is collaborating with three organizations on the review—the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Sweden, the Chr. Michelsen Institute for Science and Intellectual Freedom in Norway, and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

The review group she is helming is the result of a request from Philippe Lazzarini, the embattled commissioner-general of UNRWA, the Palestinian-only refugee and social services agency long accused of ties to Hamas and of ignoring the terrorist group’s use of U.N. facilities in Gaza for its “military” operations.

Colonna’s review is operating parallel to a separate U.N. investigation into the allegations being conducted by the U.N.’s Office of Internal Oversight Services.

The two investigations were initiated after Jerusalem revealed that at least 12 UNRWA employees “actively participated” in the Hamas-led slaughter of 1,200 people in southern Israel on Oct. 7. Many more were wounded in the attack, and 253 people were kidnapped to Gaza, where 134 hostages remain.

The Israeli intelligence report, shared with the U.S. administration and other governments, also showed that some 10% of the agency’s 13,000 employees in Gaza are Hamas members. The revelations prompted multiple countries, led by the United States and Germany, UNRWA’s biggest donors, to suspend contributions to the agency totaling $438 million, or more than half of this year’s expected funding.

Israel’s military subsequently said last Monday that the U.N. aid agency in Gaza employed more than 450 “military operatives” from Hamas and other terrorist groups.

However, Norway, a major UNRWA donor that didn’t suspend funding, suggested last week that many of the 16 donor countries that temporarily cut off funding to UNRWA will soon restore their financial contributions to the embattled agency.

Canada and Sweden on Friday joined the E.U. in lifting the freeze of funding for UNRWA, drawing swift condemnation from the Israeli Foreign Ministry amid concern of a snowball effect caused by the E.U. move.

“The decisions by Canada and Sweden to restore funding to UNRWA—after having received the intelligence-based information about the organization’s employees who participated in the 7 October massacre and prior to the completion of the work of the investigative bodies and the publication of their findings is a serious mistake that constitutes tacit agreement and support by the governments of Canada and Sweden to ignore the involvement of UNRWA employees in terrorist activity,” the foreign ministry said in a rare Saturday night statement.

The ministry added that the renewed funding will not change the fact that UNRWA “will not be part of the solution” in the Gaza Strip.

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