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‘Genuine Prospect Of Palestinian Statehood Is Critical’, UNRWA Chief Tells Emergency Summit In Saudi Arabia

A political solution to end the cycle of conflict in Israel and Palestine has become a stark “matter of life and death” for millions in Gaza and beyond, said the head of the UN relief agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) on Saturday.

Philippe Lazzarini was addressing an emergency summit convened by the League of Arab States and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation where he called for urgent support for civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory on three fronts.

He called on leaders at the Arab-Islamic summit to "act now to change the trajectory" of the crisis that began with the Hamas terror attacks of 7 October.

According to news reports, The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in his opening remarks called for an immediate end to Israel’s military operations in Gaza and the release of all hostages and prisoners being held by all parties to the conflict.

The “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza has underlined the failure of the international community and UN Security Council to end Israel’s “gross violations of international humanitarian laws”, he said, adding that Palestinians were victims of double standards.

‘Dehumanized and abandoned’

The UNRWA chief told ministers assembled in the Saudi capital from across the Islamic world that Gazans “feel dehumanized and abandoned”, yearning for reassurance that their plight is being recognized by “Arab and Muslim brothers and sisters”.

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He said beyond Gaza, the West Bank is also at “boiling point” while the Lebanon-Israel border is “simmering with tension”.

Mr. Lazzarini highlighted the desperation he had seen for himself in Gaza last week: “Every little girl and boy I met in an UNRWA shelter asked me for bread and water. Children used to learn and laugh in the school I visited.

“Now, the school is an overcrowded shelter that lacks the minimum standards for a dignified life.”

He mourned the loss of 101 UNRWA colleagues during the Israeli bombardment, noting that UN flags will be lowered to half-mast worldwide on Monday to honour them.

Ceasefire paramount

The UNRWA chief said his first urgent request for support was to achieve a humanitarian ceasefire “with strict adherence to international humanitarian law” that would prevent further loss of civilian life, including UN facilities and hospitals.

“I am sure that many of you can influence action on the ground. No effort should be spared”, he told the summit.

Secondly, he said there must be a meaningful and continuous flow of humanitarian aid which can match “the immense humanitarian needs.”

Third he said UNRWA urgently needs both funds, and strong advocates from across the Arab and African Islamic world.

“UNRWA is not only the largest UN agency in Gaza but also the last remaining lifeline for 2.2 million people”, he said. “We can offer much more if we have the means.”

Finally, he called on leaders to “firmly defend the agency against false and insidious claims that its schools teach hatred or that it has let the civilians in Gaza down. These accusations come from those who want us to fail.”

‘We must step back from the brink’

A lasting political solution, he said, was the only way to prevent future cycles of violence:

“A genuine prospect of Palestinian statehood is critical.”

“We must step back from the brink before it’s too late. I urge you, members of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to act now to change the trajectory of this crisis.”

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