UNRWA chief warns of threat to operations amid accusations from Israel

The head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency warned on Monday of “a deliberate and concerted campaign” aimed at ending its operations as Israel accused the organization of employing over 450 “military operatives” from Hamas and other armed groups.

Philippe Lazzarini did not specifically address the latest allegations made by the Israeli military on Monday, but he called out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “openly stating that UNRWA will not be part of post-war Gaza.”

“UNRWA is facing a deliberate and concerted campaign to undermine its operations, and ultimately end them,” Lazzarini – head of the

UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) – told the UN General Assembly.

“The implementation of this plan is already underway with the destruction of our infrastructure across the Gaza Strip,” he said. “Dismantling UNRWA is short sighted. By doing so, we will sacrifice an entire generation of children, sowing the seeds of hatred, resentment, and future conflict.”

Lazzarini told the 193-member assembly that UNRWA was “functioning hand-to-mouth” after 16 countries paused a total of $450 million in funding when Israel in January accused 12 UNRWA staff of taking part in the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants.

The UNRWA staff were fired and an independent internal UN investigation launched.

“The fate of the agency, and the millions of people who depend on it, hang in the balance,” Lazzarini told the General Assembly, describing UNRWA as “the backbone of humanitarian assistance in Gaza.”

UNRWA employs 13,000 people in Gaza, running schools, healthcare clinics and other social services, and distributing humanitarian aid. The UN has said some 3,000 are currently still working to deliver aid in Gaza, where 576,000 people – one quarter of the population – are one step away from famine.

“In Gaza, the UN is a terror organization itself,” Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan told the General Assembly earlier on Monday.

The war in Gaza was triggered by the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, when around 1,200 people were killed and 253 hostages seized, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s air and ground campaign in Gaza has since killed around 30,000 Palestinians, health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave say.

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