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Palestinian relief agency head deplores ‘short-sighted’ calls for closure By Reuters

Palestinian relief agency head deplores 'short-sighted' calls for closure

© Reuters. Philippe Lazzarini, head of the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, walks to attend a news conference during an informal EU Development Ministers Council, in Brussels, Belgium February 12, 2024. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

GENEVA (Reuters) -The head of UNRWA said on Tuesday calls for it to be dismantled were short-sighted and that terminating the mandate of the agency that provides essential services to Palestinian refugees would deepen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Israel has said UNRWA, which has helped Palestinians for over 70 years, is not fit for purpose and major donors have suspended funding after allegations that 12 of UNRWA’s thousands of Palestinian employees were suspected of involvement in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that touched off the Gaza war.

“I have talked to the member states about all these calls to have UNRWA dismantled, to be terminated. I have warned about the impact, I have said that these calls are short-sighted,” UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said after meeting member states at the United Nations in Geneva.

Even prior to the Israeli allegations, Israel had repeatedly called for UNRWA to be dismantled, arguing that it fosters anti-Israeli sentiment among its staff.

UNRWA, which a spokesperson for the agency said had about two more weeks of funding before some programmes might be disrupted, strongly disputes this.

“There is 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 said.

UNRWA was established in 1949 following the war of Israel’s founding, when 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes. Nearly the entire Gaza population now relies on UNRWA for basics including food, water and hygiene supplies.

In several Arab countries around the Middle East, UNRWA supplies some basic services to Palestinian refugees and their descendants, such as healthcare and education.

Shutting down UNRWA would not just impact the Gaza crisis, Lazzarini said. “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.”

U.N. INVESTIGATION

Lazzarini has held extensive consultations with donors, including a trip to Gulf countries and Brussels, in recent days in a bid to plug UNRWA’s funding shortfall of some…

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