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UNRWA Head Says Agency Fired Employees Accused by Israel Without Proof of Claims

Countries defunding the agency have cited the terminations as proof of Israel’s allegations.

This picture taken during a media tour organized by the Israeli army on February 8, 2024, shows an Israeli soldier standing in an evacuated compound of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza City.

The head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has admitted that the agency fired staff members who were accused by Israel of being involved with the October 7 attacks despite the lack of evidence for the claims.

The stunning admission undermines one of the main reasons given by many countries to suspend funding for the agency.

At a press conference late last week, UNRWA commissioner general Philippe Lazzarini said that the agency employed “reverse due process” in the terminations, The Guardian reported. Despite Israel’s long history of attempting to destroy or hamper the UNRWA, Lazzarini said that the agency did not attempt to corroborate the allegations before firing the workers.

The UN has assembled a special commission in order to investigate the claims that Israel has made against 12 UNRWA employees — an investigation that Israeli officials are refusing to participate in. The UNRWA has previously said that the agency fired the employees based on the seriousness of the allegations, not due to any internal findings of guilt.

“I could have suspended them, but I have fired them. And now I have an investigation, and if the investigation tells us that this was wrong, in that case at the UN we will take a decision on how to properly compensate [them],” Lazzarini said, per The Guardian.

He added that the agency had already been facing “fierce and ugly attacks” when it was notified of the allegations, saying, “indeed, I have terminated without due process because I felt at the time that not only the reputation but the ability of the entire agency to continue to operate and deliver critical humanitarian assistance was at stake if I did not take such a decision,” he said.

Lazzarini’s admission adds to the growing number of reports that there is no evidence that backs up Israel’s claims. Previous reports have found that many countries have suspended their funding without seeing evidence. Multiple outlets have reported that a six-page intelligence dossier from Israeli officials contains “no evidence” to support the allegations.

At the same time, the haste to fire the employees without evidence may be one of the key factors in UNRWA’s collapse — and, in turn, the downfall of a large proportion of the humanitarian efforts in Gaza — with the group saying that they are going to run out of resources and funding in just weeks. Some countries’ officials have cited the terminations to argue that the allegations were true, while The New York Times recently reported that it was the UN itself that first brought attention to the claims.

The vast majority of the UNRWA’s funding has been suspended, and lawmakers in the US, the UNRWA’s top donor, are currently seeking to defund the UNRWA permanently. This will have devastating effects on Palestinians across the Middle East who the UNRWA supports, and especially for those in Gaza, who are already facing famine, constant bombardment, disease, violence from Israeli troops, and more, due to Israel’s genocidal campaign.

As the UNRWA struggles to deliver what humanitarian aid they can to Gaza with the limited resources the agency has left, Israeli officials are cracking down even harder. Officials are blocking food deliveries from reaching the agency, after spending months preventing humanitarian aid from entering the region and targeting the aid workers trying to deliver the aid. Lazzarini has said that 1,050 containers of food, mostly flour, are being held up at an Israeli port — enough to provide food for 1.1 million Palestinians in Gaza for a month.

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