The head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, will not resign. He said this at a press conference in Brussels on Monday. Israel had called for his resignation after Israel said a Hamas tunnel had been found under UNRWA headquarters.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell agreed with Lazzarini: he had not yet seen any evidence to support the allegations against UNRWA. The EU’s chief diplomat reiterated the importance of allowing the agency to continue its work in the Gaza Strip. If the aid organization were to disappear, it would have a “destructive impact on 5.6 million people,” Borrell said. The only way to dismantle UNRWA is a two-state solution in the Middle East.
Serious accusations from Israel
Israel had already made accusations in January that several UNRWA employees were involved in the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. Some EU countries, including Austria, subsequently suspended their aid payments to the UN agency. Lazzarini pointed to ongoing investigations to clarify the allegations. The organization’s work in southern Gaza is also becoming increasingly difficult as a result of Israeli military operations. There is a ‘deep sense of panic and fear’.
Belgian Minister of Development Cooperation and current representative of the Council presidency, Caroline Gennez, criticized Israel’s lack of transparency. The reports on the allegations against UNRWA were not shared with the organization itself nor with its donor countries. Following the destruction of the office of the Belgian Development Cooperation Agency in Gaza, Belgium recently summoned the Israeli ambassador. Here too, we are still waiting for further information, says Gennez.
US seeks information
According to the government, the US is trying to obtain more information about reports that the radical Islamist Hamas operated a command post under the headquarters of the UN refugee agency UNRWA. A US State Department spokesperson said they had contacted Israel and UNRWA, according to Reuters news agency.
Regarding the recent Israeli airstrikes on Rafah, it is said that the US did not assume that this was the start of a larger offensive. Hamas battalions were in Rafah.
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