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Israel accuses UNRWA employee of being elected to Hamas government

March 8, 2017 11:31 A.M. (Updated: March 8, 2017 1:54 P.M.)
UNRWA school in Gaza (Archive photo: AFP)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- An employee of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been accused by Israeli authorities of being elected to a top position in the Hamas movement’s politburo in the besieged Gaza Strip, Israeli media reported on Tuesday.

The Times of Israel reported that Muhammad al-Jamassi, an engineer working with UNRWA, was elected along with 14 others into the committee during Hamas’ February elections. According to the report, al-Jamassi has held various positions with Hamas since 2007.

Al-Jamassi acts as as a chairman for UNRWA’s engineering department while overseeing infrastructure projects for the organization, the Times of Israel noted.

UNRWA’s spokesperson Chris Gunness told Ma’an on Tuesday that UNRWA was “aware of a new allegation against a staff member in Gaza,” adding that the organization has launched a preliminary investigation into the allegations.

“Thus far no evidence has been forthcoming or uncovered by us that would confirm the allegation. The staff member concerned has denied the accusation,” Gunness said, noting that as the investigation continued, “we will consider any relevant facts or elements that are brought to our attention.”

A spokesperson for COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, told Ma'an they were not able elaborate on what evidence has been brought against al-Jamassi and why such evidence has not yet been presented to UNRWA.

Last month, UNRWA suspended the head of its employee union, Suheil al-Hindi, after Israeli authorities accused him of having been elected to a position with the Hamas party in the Gaza Strip.

Gunness had initially reported in a statement 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.”

However, al-Hindi was eventually suspended after UNRWA “had been presented with substantial information from a number of sources,” Gunness said at the time.

Al-Hindi told Ma’an at the time 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 the internal elections.

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.

Critics have pointed out that while the Israeli government considers Hamas to be a “terrorist” organization, the group continues to be the de-facto leaders of the Gaza Strip since being elected in 2006, making it difficult for local NGO employees in the besieged territory to avoid some form of political cooperation with the group.
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