GENEVA -The head of the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) said on Tuesday that calls to dismantle it were short-sighted and that terminating its mandate would weaken the world’s ability to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
“I have talked to the member states about all these calls to have UNRWA dismantled, to be terminated. I have warned about the impact, I have said that these calls are short-sighted,” UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said after meeting member states at the United Nations in Geneva.
Major donors have suspended funding after allegations that 12 of UNRWA’s tens of thousands of Palestinian employees were suspected of involvement in the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel by Hamas.
Even prior to the allegations, Israeli authorities had repeatedly called for the agency to be dismantled, arguing it fosters anti-Israeli sentiment among its staff.
UNRWA strongly disputes this.
“There is absolutely no other U.N. agency or international NGOs which have been tasked over the last two decades to provide government-like services like education to hundreds of thousands of children,” Lazzarini said.
Closing UNRWA would not just impact the current humanitarian crisis, he added. “If we want to give a chance to any future (post-conflict) transition to succeed, we need also to make sure that the international community has the tools, and one of the tools is UNRWA.”
UNRWA was established in 1949 following the war at Israel’s founding, when 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes.
Nearly the entire Gazan population now relies on UNRWA for basics including food, water and hygiene supplies.
Lazzarini expressed concern at a possible Israeli assault on Rafah in southern Gaza on the border with Egypt.
“The question is, where will the civilians go?” he said.
“There is absolutely no safe place in Rafah anymore. The fear is that the number of people killed and injured might again significantly increase.” REUTERS
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