UNRWA chief rebuffs calls to resign over alleged Hamas links

Philippe Lazzarini (2nd R), Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, speaks during a visit by the German Development Minister to the UNRWA headquarters in Amman. Hannes P Albert/dpa
Philippe Lazzarini (2nd R), Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, speaks during a visit by the German Development Minister to the UNRWA headquarters in Amman. Hannes P Albert/dpa
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UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) director Philippe Lazzarini on Monday again rebuffed calls for his resignation over his agency's alleged links to Hamas.

"I have no intention to resign," Lazzarini said after an informal meeting with EU development ministers at the Egmont palace to discuss the Hamas allegations and his agency's future funding.

The main UN aid agency for Palestinians in Gaza is under heavy scrutiny after the Israeli military said it discovered a Hamas command tunnel running under UNRWA's headquarters.

Israel has also previously accused about a dozen employees of being involved in the October 7 terror attacks led by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The UN agency fired the UNRWA staff members in response and launched an investigation.

Updating EU development ministers on the inquiry, Lazzarini called on Israel to share any information about the allegations with the team investigating the UN agency.

Several major Western donors to UNRWA, including the United States and Germany, temporarily suspended payments to the Gaza relief agency over the allegations.

The European Commission also announced a review of its funding and that payments would be stopped until the end of February. An audit of the UN agency led by EU-appointed experts would also be carried out.

According to Lazzarini, the $82 million in commission funding, expected from the beginning of March is "absolutely critical" for the UN agency's cashflow.

From March, cashflow will be negative, Lazzarini said and UNRWA needs $60 million per month just to cover its 30,000 staff across the region. From April, cashflow "will be significantly negative," he stressed.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell issued a strong defence of the Gaza relief agency ahead of the meeting.

He stressed that allegations of Hamas activity at the UN agency must be verified and that "it's not a secret that the Israeli government wants to get rid of UNRWA."

The top EU diplomat said he believes the Israeli government wants to dispense with UNRWA so as to not have to deal with Palestinian refugees needs.

Borrell also called on the United States and other supporters of Israel, with civilian casualties mounting, to rethink their decision to supply weapons for the war against Hamas.

"If the international community believes that this is an slaughter, that too many people are being killed, maybe they have to think about the provision of arms," he said.

Lazzarini faced demands to resign after Israel published their charges against UNRWA employees involved in the October 7 terror attacks.

Further demands from the Israeli government followed after the discovery of the Hamas command tunnel.

The tunnel was 700 metres long, 18 metres deep and served as an important facility for Hamas' military intelligence service, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said on Saturday evening.

The IDF also said there were indications that the premises of the UNRWA headquarters were used by Hamas militants and that it found large quantities of weapons and explosives.

The UNRWA office was abandoned early in the war between Israel and Hamas. Lazzarini said the agency knew nothing about the tunnel - a claim that Israel dismissed as "absurd."