'We're dealing with concerted campaign by Israel to destroy UNRWA': Lazzarini

AFP , Saturday 17 Feb 2024

Israel is waging a concerted campaign aimed at destroying UNRWA, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said in an interview published Saturday.

Philippe Lazzarini
File Photo: The Commissioner-General of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the UNRWA headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon. AP


Philippe Lazzarini said calls for his resignation were part of the Israeli government's push.

"Right now we are dealing with an expanded, concerted campaign by Israel aimed at destroying UNRWA," he told the Swiss newspaper group Tamedia.

"It is a long-term political goal because it is believed that if the aid agency is abolished, the status of the Palestinian refugees will be resolved once and for all -- and with it, the right of return. There is a much larger political goal behind this.

"Just look at the number of actions Israel is taking against UNRWA," the main aid body in the Gaza Strip, he said.

He cited measures in the Israeli parliament, moves to remove the agency's VAT exemption and orders for contractors at Israel's port of Ashdod to "stop handling certain food deliveries for UNRWA".

"And all these demands come from the government."

Furthermore, Lazzarini says more than 150 UNRWA installations sheltering displaced Palestinians have been hit since Israel's war on Gaza began.

He added that $438 million in UNRWA funding  -- the equivalent of more than half of expected income for 2024 -- has been frozen following Israeli allegations that some of its staff participated in the Hamas offensive into Israel on 7 October.

Several countries -- including the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan -- have already suspended funding to UNRWA, despite there being no concrete evidence to support the Israeli allegations, with over a dozen countries following suit.

"If all countries continue to withhold their payments, UNRWA's funding will very quickly be at risk," he said.

"From March onwards, expenses exceed income. And without new donors, UNRWA will have to cease operations in April."

He said this applied not only to the Gaza Strip but also to work in the West Bank, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Lazzarini said he was holding meetings with donors and some were "willing to reconsider their decision".

He said the European Commission would pay its contribution of around 82 million euros ($88 million) again from March.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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