Israeli PM Netanyahu urges closure of UN Palestinian agency

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for the shutdown of the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) on Wednesday. This demand coincides with increased Israeli air strikes in Gaza, as diplomatic efforts continue for a ceasefire and the release of hostages in the enclave.

Israel has linked some UNRWA staff to the Oct. 7 Hamas assault in southern Israel, which sparked the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Major donors, including the United States, have suspended funding pending an investigation. However, aid agencies warn that ending UNRWA operations could severely disrupt humanitarian work in Gaza.

The Palestinians have countered Israeli claims, accusing them of misrepresenting UNRWA, established to assist refugees following the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation. Over half of Gaza’s population relies on UNRWA for essential aid.

Netanyahu, addressing U.N. delegates, asserted, “It’s time the international community and the U.N. realize that UNRWA’s mission must end.” He suggested other aid organizations could take over UNRWA’s role in addressing Gaza’s needs.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, however, has emphasized UNRWA’s critical role in Gaza’s humanitarian response, appealing for continued support for the agency’s operations.

In Gaza, intensified Israeli air strikes have been reported in Gaza City and Khan Younis, despite significant peace efforts in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Hamas, which governs Gaza, is currently reviewing a ceasefire proposal that includes the release of all hostages taken on Oct. 7, estimated by Israel to be around 136. Hamas demands an end to the Israeli offensive.

Amid these developments, global powers are striving to avert a broader conflict. Tensions in the Middle East have escalated with Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels threatening attacks on U.S. and British ships in the Red Sea in support of Palestinians.

Relations between Tehran and Washington remain strained following a drone strike in Jordan, resulting in three U.S. soldiers’ deaths, attributed to Iran-backed militants. The U.S. has not specified its response, but Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have vowed retaliation against any U.S. aggression.