Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday that he had told US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley during her visit last week that the United Nations should consider shutting down operations of its Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Netanyahu's remarks came after UNRWA faced backlash over the weekend after the body announced discovering a Hamas tunnel underneath two of their schools in the Gaza Strip.
The UN body’s announcement of the discovery of the tunnels came a day after Nikki Haley visited an UNRWA school in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem.
Established by the UN General Assembly in 1949, the agency exists expressly to provide aid to "Palestinian Refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, and the Gaza Strip."
Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu charged that "in various UNRWA institutions there is a lot of incitement against Israel, and therefore the existence of UNRWA - and unfortunately its work from time to time - perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem rather than solve it."
"Therefore, the time has come to dismantle UNRWA and merge its components with the [UN] High Commissioner for Refugees," the premier added.
Netanyahu further stated that following the discovery of the tunnel under the UNRWA sites, he had instructed the Foreign Ministry's Director-General to submit a formal complaint to the UN Security Council against Hamas.
"Hamas is using school children as human shields, and that is the enemy we have been fighting for years; an enemy that commits two-fold war crimes," he stated, adding that "On the one hand, [Hamas] intentionally attacks innocent civilians all the while hiding behind children."
On Friday, Israel called on the UN to “strongly and unequivocally condemn Hamas” and formally classify the group a “terrorist organization” following the discovery of a tunnel that runs beneath two UN Relief and Works Agency schools in the Gaza Strip.In a letter
to the president of the Security Council, Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon demanded that “this time, the international community must not turn a blind eye toward such cynical exploitation” of civilian infrastructure in Gaza by Hamas.
UNRWA has been the subject of considerable pressure in recent months. In February, allegations emerged that an UNRWA employee had been elected to the Hamas political leadership. The individual in question was suspended by the organization and subsequently resigned.
And earlier this month, the UNRWA apologized after it was revealed that it had used a photo of a Palestinian child living in Syria for its fund-raising campaign in Gaza. The photo was later removed.Ariane Mandell and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.