The United Nations on Monday defended the UN agency that provides aid to Palestinians, after Israel’s prime minister called for it to be shut down.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres “is concerned about recent public criticism of UNRWA and the integrity of its operations,” spokesman Farhan Haq said, referring to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East.
“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.”
Guterres also “calls on all member states to continue their support to the agency in order for UNRWA to be in a position to fulfill impartially and efficiently its essential role,” Haq added.
His remarks came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for UNRWA to be dismantled on Sunday, accusing it of incitement against the Jewish state.
Netanyahu said he also raised the issue during a recent visit by Washington’s UN envoy Nikki Haley, who has accused the United Nations of bias against Israel.
“I told her that the time had come for the United Nations to reconsider the continued existence of UNRWA,” Netanyahu’s office quoted him as saying.
Earlier this month, UNRWA said its employees uncovered a tunnel belonging to the Hamas terror organization that had been dug under a boys’ elementary school under UNRWA’s auspices.
Hamas on Friday denied the UNRWA report, with spokesman Fawzi Barhoum saying the group “strongly condemns UNRWA’s allegations.” Barhoum also said Hamas clarified the issue with other groups who denied having any “resistance-related works” in the area.
The incident wasn’t the first time Hamas has used UNRWA premises for its purposes or the first time the agency has been otherwise linked to with the terror group.
An independent UN inquiry found in 2015 that Palestinian armed groups hid weapons in three empty UN-run schools in Gaza and that in at least two cases terrorists “probably” fired rockets at Israel from the facilities during the summer war in 2014 between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Additionally, the Israeli government, US State Department and independent organizations have for many years accused the Palestinian education system, including UNRWA schools, of educating Palestinian children to hate Israel and support violence. The organization’s attempts to revise the curriculum have been met with protests by Palestinians.
Israel has long claimed that some of UNRWA’s Palestinian employees support terrorist activities and spread anti-Semitism online.
In February, a UN watchdog group released a report showing screenshots from the Facebook pages of 40 UNRWA school employees in Gaza and other parts of the Mideast that it said “incite to Jihadist terrorism and anti-Semitism, including by posting Holocaust-denying videos and pictures celebrating Hitler.”
In April, the agency said a Gaza staffer suspected of having been elected to Hamas’s leadership no longer works for it but declined to clarify whether he was fired or resigned after Israel voiced its objections.