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UNRWA’s Lazzarini ‘deeply concerned’ that Israeli offensive could move to southern Gaza

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As fighting resumes between Israel and Hamas after a one-week truce, FRANCE 24 speaks to Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). He said he was “deeply concerned” at the looming prospect of Israel’s offensive moving to the south of the Gaza Strip. This part of the Palestinian territory is even more densely populated than before, as many civilians have fled there to escape Israeli air strikes in the north. 

Lazzarini said he hoped “there will be lessons learned” from the first phase of the Israeli offensive and that “Israel will strictly abide by international humanitarian law” going forward.

Asked about the US proposal to create “safe areas” for civilians, he responded that this was unworkable, noting that “a high number of people” have been killed in the south of Gaza, despite Israel describing that area as safe and urging people to go there.

Lazzarini accused Israel of not respecting international humanitarian law in Gaza. He noted that 10,000 women and children have been killed since October 7, “which is more than two years of civilians killed in the Ukraine war”.

He went on: “This number cannot be collateral [damage] and we expect that the rule of law be more strictly abided by. Here we are talking about the notion of proportionality and distinction.”

UNRWA’s commissioner-general denied any sheltering of Hamas militants by its organisation. Asked about a report by Israel’s Channel 13, alleging that a recently freed hostage was detained for 50 days by a teacher at an UNRWA school, Lazzarini agreed that this allegation would be very concerning if true, but said that so far “absolutely no other information” has been provided beyond a tweet. Pressed on whether some UNRWA workers sympathised with Hamas, he said that UNRWA submits an annual list of its staff to Israel and that there have never been any objections by Tel Aviv.

Furthermore, he promised that UNRWA will not leave Gaza, since the Palestinians would consider this “a betrayal” by the international community.

Finally, Lazzarini called on the international community to make the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a priority “once and for all”.

Read moreFull coverage of the Israel-Hamas war

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