UNRWA Evacuates Foreign Staff from Gaza to Israel Over Death Threats

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) announced Monday that it had evacuated most of its international senior officials from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip due to fears for their safety, The Time of Israel reported.

UNRWA said it had “decided to temporarily withdraw part of its international staff from Gaza following a series of worrying security incidents affecting its personnel in the Strip.”

International staffers had received death threats from local employees who face dismissal. The agency’s statement said that “earlier today, a number of staff were harassed and prevented from carrying out their duties.”

UNRWA criticized Hamas, the Islamist terrorist group which exercises complete political and military control over Gaza, for a lack of security. “The lack of effective security and safety risk impacting vital humanitarian services to more than 1.3 million refugees in Gaza,” it said. Around 80% of Palestinians in the impoverished coastal enclave are eligible for UNRWA aid.

UNRWA’s officials were evacuated from Gaza via the Erez Crossing, despite the fact that the checkpoint was officially closed for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. A spokesman for the Israeli Defense Ministry unit, which oversees the crossing, confirmed that a number of foreign employees from the agency “were evacuated from the Gaza Strip to Israel.”

Israel and the United States accuse UNRWA of helping to perpetuate the Palestinian narrative by manipulating the “right of return” and by artificially inflating the refugee number. In an op-ed published in The Algemeiner on August 28, Joshua S. Block, CEO & President of The Israel Project said that “UNRWA is creating a climate in which hatred and violence become legitimate political and ideological options for Palestinian children.”

Block warned, “if UNRWA also promises those millions of Arabs who are citizens of other countries the right to relocate to Israel, then Israel would no longer exist as a Jewish state.”

On August 31, the U.S. ended all funding to UNRWA over a lack of reform. “The United States will no longer commit further funding to this irredeemably flawed operation,” said States Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert. The U.S. previously was the single largest donor to the agency, giving around $350 million per year.

UNRWA has also faced criticism from European states over its politicized agenda. In May, Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis called UNRWA “part of the problem” in the Middle East and said the agency hindered the prospects of peace by fueling “unrealistic” hopes of Palestinians returning to their homes.

 [Photo: rusticus80 / Flickr]