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UNRWA suspends employee over Israeli accusations of Hamas involvement

Feb. 27, 2017 2:29 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 27, 2017 5:59 P.M.)
GAZA (Ma’an) -- The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) suspended the head of its employee union on Sunday after Israeli authorities accused him of having been elected to a political position in the besieged Gaza Strip.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said on Sunday that “in light of our ongoing independent internal investigation, we had been presented with substantial information from a number of sources which led us to take the decision this afternoon to suspend Suheil al Hindi, pending the outcome of our investigation.”

“As with all UN agencies, we will ensure that a staff member’s due process rights are followed,” Gunness added.

Al-Hindi told Ma’an on Monday that he was “shocked” by the Israeli allegations and UNRWA’s decision to suspend him, and denied that he had been elected as a member of Hamas’ politburo in recent internal elections.

Gunness had initially reported in a statement on Thursday that a preliminary UNRWA investigation had “neither uncovered nor received evidence to contradict the staff member’s denial that he was elected to political office.”

“All UNRWA staff are obligated to uphold the highest standards in terms of neutrality, independence and integrity in fulfilling the agency’s mandate to provide services to Palestine refugees,” Gunness said at the time.

UNRWA is responsible for providing services to some five million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, and has played a leading role in rebuilding destroyed homes in the beleaguered Palestinian coastal enclave following devastating Israeli military offensives.

Israel has accused a number of NGO workers based in the Gaza Strip of being affiliated to or aiding the Hamas movement in the past year, including employees of UNDP, World Vision, and Save the Children.
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