Head of UN Palestinian refugee agency seeks General Assembly support

AFP , Monday 4 Mar 2024

The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees is set to defend his organization's work Monday at the General Assembly, after crippling backlash over accusations some employees were involved in Oct.7 offensive on Israel.

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini
File Photo: UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini says his agency s ability to continue its work is seriously threatened after several countries froze funding. AFP


Philippe Lazzarini warned in a letter to the General Assembly's president that the UNRWA is at a "breaking point" as donors freeze funding, Israel exerts pressure to dismantle the agency and humanitarian needs soar.

The UNRWA's ability to carry out its mandate is "seriously threatened," Lazzarini said, urging member states to "provide the political support necessary to sustain" the agency.

The organization has been at the center of controversy since Israel accused about a dozen of its employees of involvement in the October 7 Hamas' Al-Aqsa Flood Operation, which resulted in some 1,160 deaths, according to an AFP tally.

Israel's offensive on the besieged Gaza Strip has killed more than 30,500 people, 70% of them women and children, according to the latest toll from the Palestinian health ministry.

Lazzarini has said that Israel has provided no evidence against his former employees.

However several countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan, suspended funding to the UNRWA following the Israeli allegations.

The total frozen amounts to $450 million, the equivalent of more than half the funds UNRWA received in 2023.

The United Nations fired the employees accused by Israel and has begun an internal probe.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also tasked an independent panel with assessing whether UNRWA acts in a neutral fashion in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The European Commission, recognizing steps taken by the UN and its refugee agency, said Friday it would release 50 million euros ($54 million) in UNRWA funding.

The United States, the top contributor to the chronically underfinanced agency, was among the first countries to suspend aid. It diverted some funds to other UN operations.

But Guterres has insisted no other agency has the capacity to replace UNRWA which, in addition to providing humanitarian aid, manages schools and hospitals.

Yemeni Ambassador Abdullah Ali Fadhel Al-Saadi implored donors on behalf of the Arab Group to resume financing ahead of Monday's General Assembly meeting, as "two million people are completely reliant on UNRWA services," he said.

NGOs including Save the Children and Action Against Hunger made the same point in a joint statement, warning of the "complete collapse" of the humanitarian response in Gaza, where food and water shortages are widespread.

But Israel held firm on its accusations, with its UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan insisting Monday that the agency "has always been part of the problem, and never part of the solution."

The UNRWA employs some 30,000 people in the occupied territories, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, with some 13,000 staff in the Gaza Strip.

* This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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