UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe LazzariniREUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, the UN agency for “Palestinian refugees”, accused Israel on Saturday of aiming to “destroy” the organization, The Associated Press reported.

In an interview with the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger, Lazzarini claimed that Israel has a “long-term political goal” of eliminating UNRWA.

“At the moment, we are dealing with an expanded, concentrated Israeli campaign, which is aimed at destroying UNRWA,” Lazzarini charged.

Lazzarini, who has served as UNRWA’s commissioner-general since 2020, said Israel apparently believes that “if the aid agency is abolished, the status of the Palestinian refugees will be resolved once and for all — and with it the right of return.”

He added Israel’s government has applied pressure in multiple ways in what he called its attempt to destroy the agency.

“The Israeli parliament, for example, has introduced a bill to ban the UNRWA headquarters from Jerusalem,” Lazzarini was quoted as having told the Swiss newspaper. “They no longer want to exempt UNRWA from VAT (value-added tax) in the future. Israeli authorities have ordered contractors at the port in Ashdod to stop handling certain food deliveries for UNRWA. And all these demands come from the government.”

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Lior Haiat said in response “the problem is not the campaign. The problem is Hamas infiltrating UNRWA’s activity in the Gaza Strip.”

Lazzarini’s accusations come after Israel presented evidence that 12 UNRWA employees were involved in the Hamas October 7 attack on Israel.

In the wake of this, the United States and a host of other countries announced they were temporarily pausing funding for UNRWA.

On Friday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told foreign reporters that Israel has found intelligence that more than 30 of UNRWA’s employees actively participated in the massacre, and assisted in the kidnapping of civilians and soldiers.

One of the UNRWA workers involved was identified as Faisal Ali Musalem Na’ami, 45, who was photographed during the massacre abducing a body of an Israeli from Kibbutz Be’eri. He was killed in an air strike targeting his house in Nuseirat, along with five of his children and one of his wives.