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UN agency suspends Gaza staffer over Israeli claims of Hamas activity

Israeli defence ministry agency says al-Hindi was appointed to Hamas's leadership in 13 February internal election
Palestinian women mark 29th anniversary of creation of Islamist movement Hamas last December in Rafah in southern Gaza Strip (AFP/file photo)

A United Nations agency said on Sunday it was suspending a Gaza staffer accused of being politically active in the Islamist group Hamas, which rules the coastal strip. The UN agency said it was conducting an internal investigation into the claims.

UNRWA, the UN agency in charge of Palestinian refugees, said the decision had already been made ahead of an Israeli call earlier on 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 spokeswoman Chris Gunness wrote.

COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry agency responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, said that al-Hindi was appointed to the militant group's leadership in a 13 February internal election.

He was chosen "as a senior Hamas member from Jabalia in northern Gaza," it said in an English-language statement.

"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.

The Israeli foreign ministry made the same allegation on Thursday on its official Twitter account.

UNRWA issued an initial denial the next day.

"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."

Its Friday statement quoted Hindi as saying that he has "no relation whatsoever with the issue".

It said that agency staff are regularly advised that political activity or fundraising is considered improper conduct.

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