BRUSSELS: The European Union’s top humanitarian aid official said on Thursday he had seen no evidence from Israel to back its accusations against staff from the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), which should continue playing a “critical” role in Gaza.

UNRWA, which provides aid and services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza and across the region, has been in crisis since Israel accused a dozen of its staff of involvement in the Oct 7 raid.

The allegations prompted UNRWA’s biggest donor, the United States, and some others to pause funding, putting the agency’s future in doubt.

The head of UNRWA earlier this month expressed cautious optimism that some donors would soon return, though US officials said Washington’s pause in funding might become permanent due to opposition in Congress.

Top humanitarian aid official stresses need for ‘individual accountability rather than summary justice’

The EU’s executive commission is a leading UNRWA donor after the United States. It said on March 1 it would pay 50 million euros to the agency, but hold back 32 million euros while it deals with the Israeli allegations.

Janez Lenarcic, the head of humanitarian aid and crisis management at the European Commission, said that neither he nor — according to his knowledge — anybody else at the EU executive, or any other UNRWA donor had been presented with evidence by Israel.

“Even if those allegations, at the end of the day, prove to be true, that doesn’t mean that UNRWA is the perpetrator,” he told journalists.

In that case, Lenarcic said individual accountability would be in order rather than summary justice — and the “irreplaceable” agency would be asked to clean up and carry on.

“UNRWA has reacted properly, immediately, effectively. It took several measures. There is an investigation. There is a review. We are satisfied so far with all this,” said Lenarcic.

“UNRWA has of course a critical role to play here because it has unmatched infrastructure, warehouses, shelters, logistical capacities.”

The crisis in the Middle East exposed divisions in the European Union between countries including Ireland, Spain and Belgium whose governments have been more sympathetic towards the Pales­tinians, and those of Germany and Hungary who have sided more with Israel.

Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2024

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