Last week, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, responsible for overseeing humanitarian efforts in Gaza, shocked the world by announcing it had uncovered a stockpile of rockets in a Gaza children’s school. Now, the agency stands accused of handing over those rockets to Hamas via local authorities.
Israel has long claimed that Hamas uses UN installments and humanitarian sites as cover for its various terrorist operations. Until last week, the UN generally, and UNRWA in particular, have denied the claim, saying they had no evidence such violations of their facilities were taking place.
On Wednesday, UNRWA reported that it had indeed found 20 rockets in a school not in use, and the agency turned the rockets over to local authorities. According to Israeli officials, those officials report to Hamas, so such actions are tantamount to returning weapons to terrorists.
“The rockets were passed on to the government authorities in Gaza, which is Hamas. In other words, UNRWA handed to Hamas rockets that could well be shot at Israel,” a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel.
The UNRWA decision also encourages Hamas to continue abusing the humanitarian aid it receives. “It’s shocking to see UNRWA handing over weapons to forces that can and will use them to shoot at Israel and kill Israelis and perpetuate this conflict,” Josh Block, CEO of The Israel Project, told the Daily Beast. “It’s a betrayal of the U.N.’s mission, of the Palestinian people that UNRWA is intended to serve, and calls into question international support for such an entity.”
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness rejected the accusation. “According to longstanding UN practice in UN humanitarian operations worldwide, incidents involving unexploded ordnance that could endanger beneficiaries and staff are referred to the local authorities,” Gunness said in a statement.
“Immediately after the discovery of the rockets, UNRWA proactively informed the relevant parties and successfully took all necessary measures for the removal of the objects in order to preserve the safety and security of the school. Local authorities fall under the government of national consensus in Ramallah. They pledged to pass a message to all parties not to violate UNRWA neutrality,” he said.
Upon discovering the rockets, UNRWA said it would open an investigation into the matter, “which can commence as soon as hostilities in Gaza are over,” but would only determine which portions of its findings to release after it concluded. The agency refuses to release photos of the rockets to Israel, as it claims it needs the photos as evidence in its investigation.
For what it is worth, UNRWA did issue a statement strongly condemning “the group or groups responsible for placing the weapons in one of its installations. This is a flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law.”
Although officially under the direction of the Palestinian Unity government based in Ramallah, Israel believes local law enforcement in Gaza answers to Hamas, which while no longer officially in power in the region, holds considerable control over it. Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a unity government in April, and the new cabinet was sworn in June 2. Despite Hamas being deemed a terrorist organization by the US, America has agreed to recognize the government.