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UNRWA chief Lazzarini wants investigation into tunnels

Updated at 13 Feb 2024 1:31 pm

Following the war in the Gaza Strip, a commission of inquiry should scrutinize all misappropriations of UN buildings. Philippe Lazzarini, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), made this demand to the media in Geneva on Tuesday.

This commission of inquiry should also comment on Israel's accusations that there was a Hamas tunnel under the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City. The commission should investigate all "flagrant violations" of UN buildings.

A few days ago, Lazzarini said that the aid organization had not been present at the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza for months, while Israel accused the aid organization of knowing about the tunnel used by Hamas.

Regarding the twelve employees released by UNRWA, Lazzarini said that the independent investigation would begin on Wednesday. Israel accused these employees of being involved in the massacre in Israel on October 7 last year. The investigation will take two months, Lazzarini said.

Addressing ambassadors from UN member states, Lazzarini called on them to support the investigation announced by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres into Israel's allegations against UNRWA employees. Israel has announced that it will do so, but has described the commission's mandate as "too broad".

Swiss aid on ice

In a new attack on UNRWA, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Meirav Eilon Shahar, accused employees of the aid organization of having participated in "terrorist activities" "for years". The UN had "deliberately" ignored information about the presence of Hamas members in its ranks. UNRWA representatives had decided to do nothing.

Following Israel's accusations, around twenty countries temporarily suspended their financial support for UNRWA. Switzerland has also not yet paid its contribution of 20 million this year. UNRWA is likely to be short of tens of millions of francs in just one month.

On Tuesday, Philippe Lazzarini once again warned of the consequences of a lack of funding. We must not think in the short term. "Real consequences" would become apparent in the period after the violence in the Gaza Strip.

Concerned about Rafah

Lazzarini, who comes from Neuchâtel, also said that no international administration was currently active in Gaza. Outside of UNRWA, no administrative unit within the UN has been given the task of looking after the millions of Palestinian refugees.

Lazzarini is currently particularly concerned about the situation in the city of Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip. Israel is bombarding the city and has announced a ground offensive. There are 1.5 million people in Rafah.

Since October, 100,000 people have already been killed, injured or kidnapped in the Gaza Strip. These figures could "increase significantly" if the Israeli army advances in the south of the Gaza Strip.

©Keystone/SDA

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