UNRWA's head defies Israeli claims over involvement in 7 October operation

Ahram Online , Sunday 4 Feb 2024

Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA’s commissioner-general, told the Financial Times (FT) that Israel has not presented evidence of its allegations that about a dozen UNRWA staff were involved in the 7 October Al-Aqsa Flood operation.

File photo: Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), in Beirut, Lebanon. AP


Lazzarini said although he was taking the allegations against the organization seriously, he could not comment on the progress of the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services investigation.

The UN agency, he said, had been forced to respond to leaks in the media of an Israeli intelligence assessment.

The intelligence assessment, which has been seen by the FT, provides no evidence for the claims, which it says are based on smartphone intercepts and captured identity cards.

“In general, no one in Israel likes UNRWA’s mandate — and the more dogmatic they are, the more they want UNRWA to be eliminated,” said Lazzarini.

The Israeli allegations that surfaced on 26 January have led 15 donor countries to withdraw their funding to the UNRWA, a move that Lazzarini said could force UNRWA to end lifesaving assistance and operations in the Gaza Strip by the end of February.

Speaking from Jordan, he described the donors’ decisions to stop funding the agency as “rash,” “irrational,” and driven by domestic considerations because of the polarizing impact of the Israeli war.

Notably, the Israeli "evidence" has not yet been made public with US top diplomat Antony Blinken admitting that the US has yet to investigate the Israeli allegations.

“We haven’t had the ability to investigate [the allegations] ourselves. But they are highly, highly credible,” Blinken said during a press conference last week.

However, this has not stopped the US administration from leading the campaign to suspend UNRWA’s funding with seventeen countries following suit.

The UNRWA, which plays a crucial role in providing humanitarian aid and support to two million people in Gaza, is the last remaining lifeline for the already vulnerable population.

The consequences of the funding cuts are dire, with the UNRWA's humanitarian operation on the brink of collapse.

In October 2021, Israel similarly claimed that six Palestinian organizations were linked to “terrorist groups,” but the charges based on evidence were dismissed by the US and a host of European countries as baseless.

At least 152 UNRWA employees have been killed by Israel, as the Israeli military has repeatedly targeted UN-run schools sheltering Palestinians displaced during Israel's war on Gaza.

The UN estimates that more than 85 percent of Gaza's 2.3 million Palestinians have been displaced in the 7 October war.

The forced mass displacement has sparked a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in the strip, leaving 40 percent of Gazans at risk of famine, according to the UN.

Moreover, a study conducted between 24 November and 7 December found that all people living in the Palestinian territory were in a crisis level of acute food insecurity, or worse.

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