UNRWA chief: Allegations against staff in Gaza taken seriously

The head of UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, says his agency has swiftly responded to the recent allegations by Israel that some of its staff members were involved in the Hamas attacks on October 7.

Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini says UNRWA takes the allegations seriously. The agency has already dismissed ten of the 12 officials suspected of involvement. Two others have since died.

In an online interview with NHK on Saturday, Lazzarini said that while an independent investigation is underway, the agency has taken a swift action and terminated the staff, even before the results of the investigation have been released.

Lazzarini said the decisions made by over ten countries, including Japan, to suspend funds for UNRWA, could impact its ability to respond to pressing needs as the agency may run out of funds from March.

He expressed hope that the results of the investigation will be released soon, and that the donor countries will resume providing funds to the agency.

Lazzarini also expressed serious concern that the Israeli military is poised to conduct a ground offensive in the southernmost Gaza Strip city of Rafah. About one million people have sought refuge in the city.

He said an offensive in the middle of a sea of people can only add additional layer into this endless tragedy. Lazzarini noted that there is nowhere for people to go in Gaza if the military offensive takes place.

Calling for a prompt ceasefire, he said, "Unfortunately, we are not talking any more about the ceasefire, but we are talking about expanding and extending this military operation."

Lazzarini also expressed concerns over an outbreak of diseases and food insecurity that have intensified already extraordinarily difficult living conditions in Rafah.