‘Everything will implode,’ warns UNRWA head before returning to Gaza

Philippe Lazzarini tells The National urgent aid must be delivered after 'disappointment' of failed UN Security Council resolution

UN officials and representatives of Security Council member states observe a moment of silence during a conference near the Rafah border.
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There is no exaggerating the urgency with which Philippe Lazzarini speaks about the disastrous situation in Gaza.

Hours before entering the enclave on Monday, Mr Lazzarini, the commissioner general of the UN's agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), stressed the importance of the warring sides coming to a ceasefire and, before that happens, ensuring “meaningful aid” and “commercial flows” are allowed back into the Gaza Strip before a potential “implosion”.

Speaking to The National, Mr Lazzarini said: “You never know what the tipping point is, but once you reach it everything will implode.

“We have been teetering on the verge of collapse over the last two or three weeks, and we see it also with the breakdown of civil order, so the question is how long will we be able to continue to operate in this environment.”

Describing a situation where 1.8 million people have been displaced since the October 7 war started, he said Gaza was “a place where the needs are absolutely immense, and what comes in still remains a crumb compared to the needs of the people.

“In this situation, how long can you continue to operate when people see lorries coming in and you have no real law and order, just go on the lorry and take the goods because people are desperate.”

Mr Lazzarini defended the behaviour of those Gazans seen climbing on to aid lorries as they enter the enclave to get what supplies they can.

“It is not traditional looting,” he said. “People are desperate.”

Asked what needs to happen as the war continues, Mr Lazzarini said: “We keep saying it: we have to bring assistance at scale, assistance needs to be meaningful, it has not been meaningful until now, it needs to be uninterrupted, it needs to be unconditional and, to complete the humanitarian assistance, we need also the commercial flow.

“There has not been any commercial flow [since the war started] so people are completely dependent on humanitarian assistance for the time being.”

Last Thursday, Mr Lazzarini sent a letter to the President of the UN General Assembly, Dennis Francis, saying: “The UNRWA’s ability to implement its General Assembly mandate in Gaza is today severely limited with immediate and dire consequences for the UN humanitarian response and the lives of civilians in Gaza.”

UNRWA chief: 'Gazans lack absolutely everything'

UNRWA chief: 'Gazans lack absolutely everything'

The previous day, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had invoked Article 99, calling for an immediate ceasefire.

With Israel refusing to heed ceasefire calls, and with the US repeatedly using its veto to halt the passage of any UN Security Council resolutions, the devastating war in Gaza is expected to last for weeks. But Mr Lazzarini says all efforts must continue to halt the war.

“We have to work on a ceasefire, there is no doubt,” said Mr Lazzarini. “On Friday [at the UN Security Council], it was a big disappointment.

“It is outrageous that we still have to wait, especially for the people under the bombardment, but meanwhile we need to significantly increase commodities going into Gaza, we need to open Kerem Shalom [border crossing], we need commercial flow and we also need much better protection of public infrastructure and the civilians.

“We have more than 1 million people in our UN premises. These people have to feel safe.”

Mr Lazzarini arrived at Al Arish airport near the Gaza-Egypt border on a UAE flight after UAE Permanent Representative to the UN Lana Nusseibeh co-ordinated a trip for current and incoming UN Security Council members.

Mr Lazzarini told The National: “It is important that the members of the Security Council listen to the various operators to understand what it at stake, to understand what should be the path leading to a ceasefire and what can be improved between now and a proper ceasefire.”

Updated: December 12, 2023, 9:05 AM