“Aid can only be provided in Gaza once Hamas surrenders”

Switzerland declines to renew UNRWA funding following “disappointing” hearing with Swiss-born head of tainted UN agency.

By Israel Today Staff | | Topics: Gaza, Hamas, United Nations
Activists protest against United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) outside their offices in Jerusalem, March 20, 2024. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Activists protest against United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) outside their offices in Jerusalem, March 20, 2024. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), no doubt had hopes that at least his own home country would restore funding to his embattled agency following a personal appeal.

But Switzerland’s Foreign Policy Commission announced on Tuesday that like the United States and a number of other nations, it would continue to withhold funding for UNRWA in response to revelations that the agency’s employees in Gaza had participated in the savage October 7, 2023 invasion of southern Israel.

Switzerland has until now provided $22 million annually to UNRWA.

“We have decided to listen to other voices or the other side,” said Swiss People’s Party National Councilor Franz Grüter, with an additional hearing to be held in late April.

See related: Christian lawmakers at Israel’s ‘Ground Zero’ call to dismantle UNRWA

Lazzarini was criticized by multiple parties for his testimony on Monday, with Grüter saying that “from my point of view, it was a missed opportunity. His statements did not contribute significantly to clarifying the numerous allegations.”

National Councilor Hans-Peter Portmann of the Free Democratic Party said Lazzarini’s testimony lacked self-criticism, with Lazzarini refusing to explicitly acknowledge that UNRWA cooperates in any respect with Hamas, even as many of the agency’s supporters say it is impossible not to have some level of cooperation with Gaza’s de facto governing authority.

See: IDF releases recordings of UNRWA teachers taking part in Oct. 7 massacres

“Personally, I am convinced that humanitarian aid can only be provided again in the Gaza Strip once Hamas has surrendered,” said Portmann. Until that time, he said Switzerland can assist with the air-dropping of supplies.

Center National Councilor Elisabeth Schneider-Schneiter said Lazzarini “could not credibly refute that the Swiss funds for UNRWA might end up in terrorist hands.”

At the same time, European People’s Party National Councilor Nik Gugger noted, “I very much regret that Mr. Lazzarini has not been able to show me how he wants the funds to be used sustainably for the most vulnerable. I wish he had addressed the sensitivities of politicians and ultimately, the population, more clearly.”

With reporting by JNS.