- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

The U.N. agency that has run relief programs for displaced Palestinians for the past 50 years is facing criticism from some U.S. lawmakers, who say it is at least partially responsible for terrorism against Israel.
The first salvo came in May, when Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, and Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat, made the accusations in letters to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Later, Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, publicly blamed the U.N. Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) for "looking the other way" while "terrorists operate under their supervision."
The concerns surfaced shortly after a fierce battle in the main refugee camp in the West Bank town of Jenin, in which dozens of Israelis and Palestinians died. The accusations hit a raw nerve within the agency and the United Nations.
"I am very concerned by the attempt to undermine UNRWA's credibility, which would result in reduced assistance to Palestinian refugees, as the agency is entirely dependent on voluntary contributions, the largest of which comes from the United States," wrote Kenzo Oshima, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, in a Sept. 10 letter to the State Department.
Founded by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948 as the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, the organization is the main provider of basic services education, health and social services to more than 3.9 million registered Palestinian refugees in the Middle East.
"UNRWA has never been given a mandate to administer, supervise or police the refugee camps or have any jurisdiction or legislative power over the refugees or the areas where they live," Mr. Annan said in his reply to the letters.
The issue again came up last month, during a U.N.-sponsored conference on cooperation between UNRWA and nongovernmental organizations active in the Middle East.
A National Council of Jewish Women member stood up and cited Mr. Cantor's accusations in an earlier press release.
Among other things, Mr. Cantor said, "It appears that camps under UNRWA's control have become launching pads for terrorist activity against civilian populations."
A U.N. official, who had prepared an eight-minute talk on cooperation between the world body and nongovernmental organizations, found herself on the spot.
"I answered only [that] I haven't read [the Cantor press release] yet, so I cannot answer regarding the content of the letter, but I believe that UNRWA does not administer the camps.
"It does not exercise administrative and other control, such as security or police, over the camps," said the official, who asked that her name not be used.
A spokeswoman for the National Council of Jewish Women confirmed that the exchange had taken place and said that the council had merely expressed concern that Palestinians were overrepresented on the panel.
Mr. Specter told The Washington Times that he was "concerned with reports that some individuals involved in international terrorism have come from refugee camps administered by UNRWA."
He said he had included his concerns as a statement inserted in a spending bill for foreign affairs: "The committee urges UNRWA to cooperate with efforts to prevent and respond to acts of international terrorism."
Mr. Lantos declined to comment.
But Mr. Cantor said that he remained concerned that U.S. taxpayer funds given to UNRWA was indirectly aiding terrorism.
"Terrorists operate the camps. Even Palestinian people call Jenin 'suicide capital.' [UNRWA is] fostering the environment in which terrorists operate," Mr. Cantor said.

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