Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today commended the endeavours of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to assist Palestinian refugees, noting that without the agency, the threat to peace and security in the Middle East would be far greater.
In his opening remarks at an UNRWA exhibition at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Ban lauded the body’s efforts in education, gender equality and primary health care, among other areas.
“Through both times of war and peace, [UNRWA] has assisted millions of Palestinians whose plight remains at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” he said at the opening of an exhibition marking the agency’s work.
“Indeed, long before world leaders proclaimed the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] at the United Nations, UNRWA had quietly been putting those same principles into action – with impressive results,” he added.
Characterizing it as an “often underrated and misunderstood UN agency,” the Secretary-General acknowledged that UNRWA has faced criticism, claims of bias and insistence that it is part of the problem and not the solution.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he stated, stressing the agency’s impartiality, with any bias harboured being towards the peace and welfare of all, including Israelis and Palestinians.
Mr. Ban also appealed for more funds to ensure that all Palestinian refugees have their essential and life-saving needs met.
Last Friday, he chaired a meeting of the Middle East Quartet, the diplomatic grouping comprising the UN, the European Union, Russia and the United States.
The gathering issued a statement voicing its strong support for ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at reaching a settlement by the end of 2008 that will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state in West Bank and the Gaza Strip and an end to the long-running conflict.