‘Insidious campaign’ underway to dismantle UNRWA, end Palestinians’ refugee status: Lazzarini

AFP , Ahram Online , Thursday 18 Apr 2024

The true motive behind Israeli calls for the dismantling of UNRWA is not rooted in humanitarian principles, but an attempt to end the refugee status of millions of Palestinians, the organization's head told the UN Security Council on Wednesday.

File photo - Palestinians line up for a meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023. AP


"Calls for UNRWA’s closure are not about adherence to humanitarian principles. These calls are about ending the refugee status of millions of Palestinians," Philippe Lazzarini told the UN Security Council.

He explained that the Israeli allegations against UNRWA are politically motivated, and "seek to change the long-standing political parameters for peace in the occupied Palestinian territory."

"Accusations that UNRWA deliberately perpetuates refugee status are false and dishonest."

"The agency exists because a political solution does not," UNRWA's director stressed in his statement.

UNRWA was created 75 years ago as a temporary agency, pending a political answer to the question of Palestine. 

It operates in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. 

Tens of thousands of Palestine refugees who lost their homes and livelihoods due to the 1948 conflict continue to be displaced and in need of support.

Nearly six million Palestinians are eligible for UNRWA services, which include education and healthcare.

Israel has claimed without providing evidence that 12 of the roughly 13,000 people working in the Gaza Strip for the agency have participated in the 7 October events.

The agency is the backbone of UN humanitarian operations in Gaza, Lazzarini added in his statement.

Israel's targets

Referring to Israel, he said there is an "insidious campaign" underway to dismantle UNRWA and that this would have lasting consequences.

"In the short-term, it will deepen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and accelerate the onset of famine," Lazzarini said.
Humanitarian officials are warning that famine is a very real possibility in northern Gaza as food supplies dwindle.

"In the longer term, it will jeopardize the transition from ceasefire to 'day after' by depriving a traumatized population of essential services," said Lazzarini.

UNRWA said it fired the 12 employees accused by Israel of taking part in the October operation and is now the subject of an internal UN investigation.

An outside probe of whether UNRWA is neutral was also undertaken and its final report is scheduled for release Monday.

Lazzarini accused Israel of targeting UNRWA staff and premises, saying that 178 staff have been killed, and that more than 160 UNRWA premises, mostly used as shelters, have been damaged or destroyed, killing more than 400 people since the war started.

He said Israeli security forces have also detained UNRWA staff who have talked about mistreatment and torture in detention.

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