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House Republicans ask UNRWA chief for answers about aid theft

“Our constituents are horrified that their taxpayer dollars may have, through UNRWA failures, supported Hamas terrorists,” members of the Foreign Affairs Committee wrote.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), during a visit at al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on Oct. 12, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), during a visit at al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on Oct. 12, 2021. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are seeking testimony from the head of the U.N. Palestinian aid agency, as the Hamas terrorist group is accused of stealing U.N. aid shipped into Gaza.

A Jan. 15 letter organized by Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) requests that Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, testify before the committee about whether UNRWA has aided Hamas.

“There have been a number of concerning reports that have called into question the very mission and effectiveness of UNRWA. Recently, the Israel Defense Forces alleged that Hamas terrorists are stealing UNRWA food and supplies intended for humanitarian purposes,” per the letter. “Our constituents are horrified that their taxpayer dollars may have, through UNRWA failures, supported Hamas terrorists.”

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the committee chair, and Reps. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) co-signed the letter, which notes that the United States is the largest annual contributor of funding to UNRWA, giving hundreds of millions of dollars to the agency each year.

Shortly after the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel, UNRWA appeared to accuse Hamas of stealing fuel and medical supplies from its Gaza City compound. The agency then deleted the post, saying it was “a movement of basic medical supplies from the UNRWA warehouse to health partners.”

Despite videos on social media in recent weeks depicting gunmen in Gaza riding on aid trucks and evidence that Israel has presented of such theft, UNRWA officials have denied that their aid shipments are being hijacked.

“There’s no hijacking of our supplies by Hamas,” said Bill Deere, director of UNRWA’s Washington office, in a Dec. 28 interview with NewsNation. “All of this is closely watched by both Israel and the United States from the moment it enters the Rafah border crossing or Kerem Shalom all the way to its delivery to people in need.”

“We share Israel’s concern that Hamas may seize or destroy aid entering Gaza or otherwise preventing it from reaching the people who need it,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Oct. 16.

In addition to the alleged aid theft, the committee’s letter also mentions longstanding allegations that Hamas uses UNRWA schools as cover for terror tunnels and that its teachers promote anti-Israel and antisemitic content on their curricula in violation of U.N. standards of neutrality.

As a U.N. under-secretary-general and a Swiss national, Lazzarini cannot be compelled to testify before Congress. “We ask that you indicate your willingness and availability to appear before the committee by no later than Jan. 24, 2024,” the committee Republicans wrote.

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