A dozen House lawmakers from both parties are calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to demand the resignation of the head of the United Nations and the leader of its Palestinian refugee agency following allegations that 12 employees participated in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
In a letter to Blinken sent Wednesday, the lawmakers called for the resignation of Secretary-General Antonio Gutterress and United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini.
The lawmakers also raise concerns over reports of Israeli intelligence assessments that 10 percent of UNRWA’s 13,000 staff – the majority of whom are locally-employed Gazans – have ties to Hamas, a designated terrorist group in the United States.
“They can no longer be entrusted to maintain international peace and security, protect all nations, and uphold international law,” the lawmakers wrote.
“We have lost all confidence in Secretary-General António Guterres’ ability to ensure that the U.N. is not actively supporting terrorism or giving refuge to known terrorists.”
The signatories include Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Don Bacon (R-Neb.), Anthony D’Esposito (R-N.Y.), Don Davis (D-N.C.), Brian Mast (R-Fla.), Cory Miller (R-Ohio), Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Michelle Steel (R-Calif.), Haley Stevens (D-Mich.), Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.), and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.).
Hamas killed 1,200 people in southern Israel in the Oct. 7 massacre, with civilians making up the majority of the victims. More than 240 people were taken hostage and more than 100 are still in captivity. Brutal atrocities have been documented, from rapes to the killings of defenseless women and children.
The Biden administration had paused funding for UNRWA in the wake of the organization saying it was launching an investigation into the allegations.
Nearly a dozen other countries have also paused funding for the agency, triggering dire warnings that UNRWA – which also serves Palestinian refugee populations across Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the West Bank – will run out of funds for operations by March 1.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is among the members of Congress who have decried the pause in U.S. funding for UNRWA, arguing it could worsen a humanitarian crisis and that the people of Gaza should not be punished for allegations against a small number of the organization’s employees.
But UNRWA has long been a lightning-rod for controversy among Israel’s supporters, who criticize the aid agency’s work in the Gaza Strip as, at least, operating under the influence of Hamas, the de-facto authorities of the territory.
UNRWA said it maintains a strict policy of “neutrality,” but acknowledges challenging circumstances in Gaza because of Hamas’s rule. The United Nations has launched an independent review of how the agency ensures its policy of “neutrality” and what processes are in place to respond to instances of policy violations.
While Republicans are united in opposition to UNRWA’s continued operations, some Democrats have called for resuming funding to the aid organization as Israel’s war in Gaza against Hamas goes into its fifth month.
They say the aid organization is best placed to respond to immediate needs to help provide shelter, food, water and medicine to the nearly 2 million people in need.
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