Published: Mon, June 12, 2017
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Netanyahu tells Haley to 'disband' UNRWA after tunnel discovered under schools

The Israeli ambassador to the UN has lodged an official protest to the United Nations Security Council concerning the discovery of a tunnel beneath two Gaza Strip schools run by the UN.

Netanyahu said during the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday that when he met last week with US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, he told her the time has come for the UN to reconsider UNRWA's operations and existence.

UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness responded by saying UNRWA has a clear mandate set by the United Nations.

UNRWA was founded in 1950 to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees who fled Israel during the 1948 War of Independence, many at the urging of Arab governments or propelled by false rumors of Jewish violence. The agency now helps over five million registered Palestinian refugees across the region, according to the UNRWA's own statistics.

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The US, Israel's main ally, was the biggest donor to UNRWA previous year, pledging $368 million.

Hamas has denied responsibility for the tunnel saying that it "strongly condemned" the UNRWA statement and it would be exploited by Israel to "justify its crimes".

The UN agency also pointedly noted that the tunnel "has no entry point or exit points on the premises nor is it connected to the schools or other buildings in any way".

He said the High Commission has helped tens of millions of displaced persons since World War II and a separate agency for Palestinians is unnecessary.

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The situation of Palestine refugees needs to be resolved as part of a political resolution of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

On June 1, UNRWA discovered a section of a Hamas tunnel running under two of its schools in the strip's Maghazi refugee camp, the agency has said. Both schools were empty at the time due to summer vacation. It was given a three-year extended mandate in December by a large majority.

"It is unacceptable that students and staff are placed at risk in such a way", Gunness said in a statement. "The sanctity and neutrality of United Nations premises must be preserved at all times".

Since then, numerous underground tunnels have been reportedly used to smuggle anything, from food to people and weapons, in and out of Gaza.

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