UNITED NATIONS, June 13 (APP): Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has
expressed concern over Israeli criticism of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the integrity of its operations, calling on the international community to continue supporting the agency in discharging its humanitarian mandate.
“He wishes to express his support for UNRWA and his admiration for the
role it plays in delivering essential services and protecting the rights of millions of Palestine refugees across the Middle East,” Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the UN chief, told the daily noon briefing at UN Headquarters in New York on Monday.
“The Secretary-General is concerned about recent public criticism of
UNRWA and the integrity of its operations,” he said, without naming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who called for dismantling of the UN agency on Sunday.
“UNRWA operates in the front lines of difficult conflict situations
and provides education for half a million refugee girls and boys, teaching them human rights and tolerance. Its education and relief activities contribute critically to stability in the region,” the spokesman added.
In Tel Aviv on Sunday, Netanyahu said he had already asked the visiting
US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, to consider pushing for closing down the UN agency, after the reported discovery of a tunnel underneath a UNRWA-run school in Gaza.
In a statement, Farhan Haq pointed out that UNRWA was mandated by the
General Assembly whose members have repeatedly acknowledged the agency’s unique contribution to peace and security in that region.
It added: “The Secretary-General calls on all [UN] Member States to
continue their support to the Agency in order for UNRWA to be in a position to fulfil impartially and efficiently its essential role and to implement its humanitarian mandate to serve Palestinian refugees until a just and durable solution to their situation is found.”
Meanwhile, the UN agency reported last Friday that it discovered part of
a tunnel which passed under two adjacent UNRWA schools located in the same premises in the Maghazi camp in Gaza Strip.
The discovery was made during the summer vacations when the schools were
closed and in the course of construction work in one of the school buildings.
“Following a thorough inspection of the site, we can confirm that
the tunnel has no entry or exit points on the premises nor is it connected to the schools or other buildings in any way,” read a statement issued by UNRWA, in which it condemned such tunnels in the strongest possible terms.
“It is unacceptable that students and staff are placed at risk in such
a way,” UNRWA added, noting that it has robustly intervened and protested to Hamas in Gaza and informed them that it intends to seal the tunnel under its premises, as an immediate priority.
It also noted that the presence of tunnels also violated international
law, which provides that UN premises shall be inviolable and underscored that the sanctity and neutrality of UN premises must be preserved at all times.