Dismantling UNRWA risks Gaza famine, despair for Palestinian Children: Lazzarini

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Dismantling the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, as sought by Israel, would accelerate Gaza’s slide into famine and doom generations of children to despair, the organization’s head warned Wednesday.

Israel has accused 12 of the roughly 13,000 people working in the Gaza Strip for the agency known as UNRWA of participating in the October 7 Hamas attack which prompted the Israeli military campaign against Gaza.

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Israel also accuses the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees of being a front for Hamas, which controls Gaza. It says the agency employs more than 400 “terrorists” in the besieged territory.

UNRWA is a major provider of education as well as food to Palestinian refugees, defined as Palestinians who fled or were expelled around the time of Israel’s 1948 creation, or their descendants.

However, the agency is the backbone of UN humanitarian operations in Gaza, its director Philippe Lazzarini told the UN Security Council.

Referring to Israel, he said there is an “insidious campaign” under way to dismantle UNRWA and that this would have lasting consequences.

“In the short-term, it will deepen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and accelerate the onset of famine,” Lazzarini said.

Humanitarian officials are warning that famine is a very real possibility in northern Gaza as food supplies dwindle.

The war was triggered by an unprecedented attack on Israel by Hamas on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,899 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

“In the longer-term, it will jeopardize the transition from ceasefire to ‘day after’ by depriving a traumatized population of essential services,” said Lazzarini.

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UNRWA said it fired the 12 employees accused by Israel of taking part in the October Hamas attack and is now the subject of an internal UN investigation.

An outside probe of whether UNRWA is neutral was also undertaken and its final report is scheduled for releasee Monday.

Israel’s UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan, told the Security Council that “one of UNRWA’s primary goals is to indoctrinate Palestinian children to the idea of destroying Israel.”

“The time has come to defund UNRWA,” Erdan added.

Read more:

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US resumes financial support, fundraising efforts for UNRWA

UNRWA a ‘lifeline of hope’ for Palestinian refugees, says UN chief

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