UNRWA suspends Gaza staffer who joined Hamas

UNRWA, suspends Suhail al-Hindi, who joined Hamas's political bureau.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

UNRWA HQ in Gaza
UNRWA HQ in Gaza
Flash 90

UNRWA, the United Nations agency in charge of “Palestinian refugees” said on Sunday it was suspending a Gaza staffer accused of being politically active in the Hamas terrorist group.

UNRWA said the decision had already been taken ahead of an Israeli call earlier Sunday to fire Suhail al-Hindi, head of the agency's staff union.

"Before that communication, and 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 Suhail al-Hindi, pending the outcome of our investigation," UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness wrote, according to AFP.

On Friday, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center revealed that al-Hindi is one of the new members recently elected to Hamas’s political bureau.

The center said al-Hindi led protests against the management of UNRWA in 2015 and 2016 because of the organization's decision to reduce it operations in Gaza due to budget cuts. The protests included strikes in UNRWA institutions in the Gaza Strip, which received extensive media coverage. UNRWA reached a deal with the protesters to end the strikes in December, 2016.

The Meir Amit Center also noted that following the reports of his election to the Hamas political bureau in Gaza, he came out with a series of declarations in which he vehemently denied that he was elected a member of the Hamas politburo.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli defense ministry agency responsible for civilian affairs in Palestinian-Authority assigned territories, said Sunday that al-Hindi was chosen "as a senior Hamas member from Jabalia in northern Gaza".

"He also holds positions as both the Chairman of the Association of Palestinian Workers of UNRWA since 2012 and as an elementary school principal in the Gaza Strip," it added.

"Due to the severity of the situation, the head of COGAT, Major General Yoav Mordechai called on UNRWA to terminate al-Hindi immediately," it said.

UNRWA had initially denied Israel’s statement, saying, "Based on the due diligence carried out by the agency to date, UNRWA has neither uncovered nor received evidence to contradict the staff member’s denial that he was elected to political office."

UNRWA serves the Arab refugees of the 1948 War of Independence and their descendants, proving education, health care, employment, and other services. All other refugees in the world fall under the jurisdiction of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Last month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced it would begin an official investigation into alleged ties between UNRWA and terrorist organizations and incitement in official Palestinian Authority textbooks.

AFP contributed to this report.