Calls to dismantle the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East are “short-sighted,” and terminating the organization’s mandate would be a “disaster” for the Gaza Strip, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said on Tuesday.
There are “absolutely no other U.N. agency or international NGOs which have been tasked over the last two decades to provide government-like services like education to hundreds of thousands of children,” Lazzarini claimed after meeting U.N. member state representatives in Geneva.
“If we want to give a chance to any future [post-conflict] transition to succeed, we need also to make sure that the international community has the tools—and one of the tools is UNRWA,” the Swiss-Italian bureaucrat added.
“Maybe after this cataclysm which has hit the region in Gaza, it might be time now to genuinely find a political solution, and it would be a disaster that, just before it, we get rid of … UNRWA,” he said.
On Monday, Lazzarini rebuffed calls for his ouster in the wake of mounting evidence of the U.N. agency’s ties to Hamas. “I have no intention to resign,” he stated following meetings in Brussels.
‘Hundreds of tunnels under main headquarters’
UNRWA has been embroiled in scandal since last month’s revelation of the involvement of at least 12 of its employees in Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of some 1,200 people, mainly civilians, in Israel’s south.
One of the organization’s workers is accused of kidnapping a woman and another of participating in the Kibbutz Be’eri massacre that left nearly 100 people dead. A third is said to have distributed ammunition to terrorists.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office stated on Jan. 30 that intelligence “indicates that out of approximately 12,000 UNRWA employees in the Gaza Strip, about 10% are Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives, and another 50% are first-degree relatives of a Hamas operative.”
Last week, Israeli forces exposed a Hamas data center underneath the Gaza headquarters of UNRWA, replete with servers, electricity, a backup power station and living quarters for terrorists.
Israel Defense Forces soldiers have also found missiles hidden among UNRWA relief supplies, while aid sacks marked with its logo were found filled with dirt and used in the lining of Hamas terror tunnels.
“UNRWA is totally infiltrated [by] Hamas,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a visiting delegation of U.N. ambassadors on Jan. 31.
Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres announced the creation of an ostensibly independent panel to investigate the accusations. While Israel plans to cooperate, it warned on Tuesday that “the mandate as it stands right now is too broad.
“This is not a mandate that helps to check to ensure how you don’t deploy terrorists in the future, how you don’t have … hundreds of tunnels under UNRWA schools, under their main headquarters,” warned Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s ambassador in Geneva.
“The mandate needs to be more concise,” he told reporters in the Swiss city, calling for the U.N. inquiry to include experts who can look into UNRWA’s counterterrorism vetting procedures.
The panel, led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, is scheduled to launch its two-month probe on Wednesday.