Middle East

Israel may punish U.N. agencies for 'illegal' work: media

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel is weighing measures to sanction an U.N. agency that works with the Palestinians over "illegal activities" including "illegal construction," media reported on Sunday, citing local officials.

Haaretz newspaper reported that Israel wants to "reassess" the role of the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in particular in response to the agency's promotion of "illegal" construction in the West Bank.

The newspaper said measures being considered included limiting visas for OCHA employees and removing work and travel permits issued to Palestinian employees of the agency.

Haaretz said Israeli officials were "furious" about OCHA activities in the part of the West Bank under full Israeli administrative and military control.

They accuse OCHA of promoting construction in the area without Israeli permits and the newspaper said that the head of the Israeli military office that oversees the area has ordered the demolition of any such "illegal construction."

Several international organisations and aid groups support construction in the region known as Area C, in many cases without seeking Israeli permits, which activists and Palestinians say are almost impossible to obtain.

Earlier this month, British-based charity Oxfam urged international donors to support development projects in Area C "even if they have not been explicitly approved" by the Israeli authorities.

Maariv newspaper carried the same story, saying senior foreign ministry officials described OCHA's behaviour as "madness."

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman declined to confirm or deny the reports.

The newspapers said Israel's ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor has raised the issue with the U.N.'s leadership, saying "there is a need to review OCHA'S role" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Haaretz said Prosor requested a list of all the agency's employees in the West Bank and Gaza "including full name, location and job description."

The letter also requests clarification about the role of OCHA and other U.N. agencies that assist the Palestinians, the newspaper said.

An OCHA spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment.





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