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UN chief names independent panel to assess UNRWA agency in Gaza

An Israeli border guard stands by during a protest by Israeli right-wing activists (not in frame) outside the West Bank field office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Jerusalem (AHMAD GHARABLI)
An Israeli border guard stands by during a protest by Israeli right-wing activists (not in frame) outside the West Bank field office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Jerusalem (AHMAD GHARABLI)

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

UNRWA is under fire over accusations by Israel that 12 staff members were involved in the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7.

More than a dozen countries, including the United States, Germany, Britain and Sweden, have suspended funding to the agency.

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

The goal of the probe 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."

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.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz congratulated the UN for forming this panel.

"We will submit all evidence highlighting @UNRWA's ties to terrorism and its harmful effects on regional stability," Katz wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

"It is imperative that this committee brings the truth to light," he added.

However, this new panel is not charged with probing the specific allegations Israel has made against the UNRWA employees it says were involved in the Hamas attack.

Rather, this is being done in an internal probe that the United Nations itself launched last month after the accusations were first made against them.

"We hope that donors have taken clear notice of the swift action taken by the secretary general... to address head on issues that may exist," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The October 7 attack by Hamas resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

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 in Norway, and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

UNRWA stands for United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

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