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UN agency for Palestine refugees suspends teacher in Lebanon

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Dozens of people protested outside the Beirut office of the United Nations Palestinian Refugee Agency on Wednesday after it put a staff member on administrative leave over possible violations of staff conduct regulations.

School teacher Fathi al-Sharif was put on leave for three months without pay as the U.N. agency investigated alleged activities "that are in violation of the Agency's regulatory framework governing staff conduct," the agency told Reuters in a statement.

UNRWA said it could not discuss further details. It did not say whether he was accused of membership of an armed group.

Sharif spoke at the protest on Wednesday, where a crowd had gathered to support him. Several people told Reuters that he had been accused of links to Palestinian faction Hamas, which carried out a deadly attack in Israel in October.

"The job can go, and we will stay!" he told those gathered.

UNRWA, which provides essential services including education and health to Palestinian refugees across the region, has been in crisis.

Israel informed the U.N. that it will no longer approve UNRWA food convoys to the north of Gaza, where famine is possible by May, according to a U.N.-backed report published last week. An Israeli government spokesman said on Monday Israel would stop working with UNRWA altogether in Gaza.

Earlier this year, Israel accused 12 UNRWA employees in the Gaza Strip of taking part in the Hamas-led attack on Israeli soil on Oct. 7 that left 1,200 people dead, with more than 130 still held hostage by the group.

Israel launched a land, sea and air offensive in response that the Hamas-run health authorities in Gaza say has left more than 32,000 Palestinians dead.

Israel's allegations prompted a suspension of funding by more than a dozen donors, many of whom have resumed funding.

They also sparked an investigation by a U.N. oversight body and a separate review process by UNRWA, which its Lebanon representative Dorothee Klaus told Reuters would examine safeguards protecting its neutrality and independence.

She said she expected her branch of the agency would be consulted in a possible review of whether staff in Lebanon were affiliated to armed groups.

(Reporting by Mohamad Azakir and Maya Gebeily; Editing by Bernadette Baum)