Head of UNRWA calls for probe into attacks on staff, premises

Head of UNRWA calls for probe into attacks on staff, premises
Philippe Lazzarini is seeking accountability for the UNRWA staff killed and buildings demolished by Israel during the war in Gaza.
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At least 180 UNRWA staff have been killed since the start of Israel's war in Gaza [Getty/file photo]

The head of the United Nations agency for Palestinians hit back at Israel on Tuesday as he called for a Security Council probe into the "blatant disregard" for UN operations in Gaza after hundreds of staff members were killed and buildings razed.

Philippe Lazzarini's comments came a day after the publication of an independent review that said Israel had not yet provided evidence supporting its claim that hundreds of UNRWA staff were members of terrorist organisations.

But the review did identify "neutrality-related issues" in the way the organisation operated, particularly in employees' use of social media.

While accepting the findings of the review, Lazzarini told reporters that attacks on UNRWA's neutrality "are primarily motivated by the objective to strip the Palestinians from the refugee status - and this is a reason why there are pushes today for UNRWA not to be present" in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

UNRWA was established in 1949 to serve Palestinians who lost their homes in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, as well as their descendants. Today, it serves around 5.9 million registered refugees.

Lazzarini said that during a recent meeting with UN Security Council member states, he "called on the members of the Security Council for an independent investigation and accountability for the blatant disregard of UN premises, UN staff, and UN operations in the Gaza Strip."

As of Tuesday, 180 UNRWA staff have been killed, 160 premises have been damaged or destroyed, and "400 people at least have been killed seeking the protection of the UN flag," Lazzarini said.

Vacated UNRWA premises have been used for military purposes by the Israeli army or Hamas and other militant groups, while UNRWA staffers have been arrested and even tortured, he added.

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"Hence the importance to have an investigation and to have accountability in order not to set a new low standard in future or conflict situations," Lazzarini said.

Israel has repeatedly equated UNRWA to Hamas, while the NGO has repeatedly denied such accusations.

Israel's military onslaught  has killed at least 34,183 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas government's health ministry.