- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 29, 2002

The head of the U.N. agency dealing with Palestinian refugees yesterday went to Capitol Hill, where he fought to keep U.S. aid flowing to the refugees and denied accusations the agency has allowed terrorists to use its facilities.
"We operate in a very difficult environment with a very large staff [who are] not entirely disinterested in what happens in the region, because they are Palestinians," said Peter Hansen, commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
"But we can be happy they respect the law and are not engaged in political activism," he said.
He said that the Israelis, who have arrested thousands of Palestinians in their recent incursions in the wake of suicide-bombing attacks, "have not presented charges against a single UNRWA staff member."
Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat and ranking member of the House International Relations Committee, has written to the U.N. secretary-general to report charges that the $300 million-a-year UNRWA operation was supporting terrorism in refugee camps, such as Jenin, where fighting killed 23 Israelis and more than 50 Palestinian fighters this spring.
"Terrorists based in refugee camps have engaged in a systematic and deliberate campaign of terror aimed at inflicting as many casualties as possible on the Israeli population," wrote Mr. Lantos in his May 13 letter.
"Camp-based terrorist activity reportedly includes the production of bombs, storage of weaponry and recruitment of personnel," he said.
Israel also has accused the U.N. agency of harboring terrorists. Israeli Foreign Ministry legal adviser Alan Baker told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that, according to the United Nations' own resolutions, arms cannot be stored in the refugee camps and the camps cannot be used for any military activity. Yet, they have become bases for terrorist organizations, he said.
Mr. Hansen said he did not fear that the United States, largest donor to UNRWA, would cut its funding.
"I am not that worried," he said. "The U.S. government sees this as a humanitarian challenge and understands that stability is important in the region and UNRWA contributes to it.
"There is no risk that the United States would contribute to instability in the region" by the cutting of aid to the refugees, he said.
UNRWA has already asked this year for an additional emergency budget of $117 million. Since the latest incursions, it has asked for $55 million more than that.
Mr. Hansen, who met yesterday with congressional staffers since Mr. Lantos was not available, rejected Mr. Lantos' charges in a lunch meeting with reporters.
He said the 12,000 UNRWA staffers are forbidden to engage in politics and he denied reports that he had called the Israeli incursion into Jenin a "massacre."
Mr. Hansen said that the roughly 750,000 Palestinians who fled what became the state of Israel in 1948, for refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, were promised a year later by U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 that they would be able to return home.
"They will not give away this right," Mr. Hansen said.
Now grown to more than 3 million, the refugees and their descendants receive food, medicine, housing and education through UNRWA.
The food and small amounts of cash have been reserved to those in need. Before the latest Palestinian intifada, or uprising, began in September 2000, about 6 percent of the West Bank and Gaza refugees got the food and cash. Now it is around 70 percent owing to loss of jobs, he said.
The refugees live in housing built by the U.N. agency and they pay no rent. When Israelis destroy houses of suicide bombers or others who attack Israelis, the U.N. agency rebuilds the houses.


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