The following is a transcript of an interview with Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, that aired on Oct. 22, 2023.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Philippe Lazzarini is the Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees. The U.S. is its largest donor. Good afternoon to you.
COMMISSIONER GENERAL LAZZARINI: Good morning, Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to go straight to questions. But I did want to first acknowledge our condolences. I saw that 29 of your employees were killed in Gaza, according to the announcement, some while sleeping in their beds at home during these bombings. We’re sorry. Can you tell us what people at home need to know about what’s happening inside of Gaza right now?
COMMISSIONER GENERAL LAZZARINI: Well listen- Gaza is an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, which is unfolding under our watch. We have 1 million people who have moved from their home. The- Gaza City has been entirely (unintelligible)- have been flattened down. Hospitals have been hit. People near our settlements have been hit. More than 30 installation of the UN have been also hit. Thousands of people have been killed there. And as you indicated, we have 29 staff also killed among our workers. They’re all teacher, doctor, gynecologists, types of social workers. And certainly we might have more people to come. What we know- so is that Gaza is under total siege. Until yesterday, absolutely nothing enter into Gaza.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I saw that those 20 trucks did make it in yesterday through the Rafah Gate, but that the UN estimates that’s- what, 4% of an average day imports? Secretary Blinken said he expects more trucks. What do you know about what aid is coming?
COMMISSIONER GENERAL LAZZARINI: What we need is a significant scaling up of a supply line into Gaza. And it needs to be sustained and it needs to be uninterrupted. Before October 7, we had up to 500 trucks entering into Gaza. And this was under a blockade, at the time already 80% of the population was dependent of international assistance. So we need- we need, Margaret, much more than that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Under- understood. I do want you to address something though that got a lot of political attention here in the United States. There was a tweet from your agency that strongly implied aid was being taken by authorities who have links to Hamas. That tweet was then deleted from your account and UNRWA issued a statement saying no looting had taken place. Was there looting? Is aid ending up in the hands of terrorists?
COMMISSIONER GENERAL LAZZARINI: That was absolutely no looting. Medicine and fuel have been taken from our headquarter in Gaza, in Gaza City, and that has been handed over to local health workers coordinated with the local coordinator of the World Health Organization. And this material ended up in the various hospitals and the fuel which has been taken also ended up in the hospital.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And you are running short on fuel now?
COMMISSIONER GENERAL LAZZARINI: Today I issued a statement, an alarm, because in three-four days, we will have no fuel anymore in Gaza. And what does it mean? No fuel, no water, no bakery, no running a hospital. But beyond that. That means also there will be no humanitarian operation. We need fuel to move the trucks to reach the people in need.
MARGARET BRENNAN: This week, you said UNRWA was on the verge of collapse, there was already a $75 million shortfall. President Biden did announce that the US would provide about $100 million to help Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank from already allocated funds. Will that help your organization?
COMMISSIONER GENERAL LAZZARINI: What do you- as you mentioned, the US is our largest donor for the time being. I do not know yet the break down of this 100 million additional dollar. But it is true that our agency has been weakened for one decade of financial crisis. And if there is no input of resource- additional financial resources, we will certainly not be up to the challenge. And we are for the Palestinian in the Gaza Strip but also in the West Bank, the main lifeline and the main hope for them.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You are essentially filling the void of a government in providing some of these services. UNRWA, will it be able to continue operating after Israel launches this expected ground invasion?
COMMISSIONER GENERAL LAZZARINI: Listen, I have no intent to interrupt any operation. We have to continue to advocate to keep the border open to bring fuel inside, to bring the supply inside, and also asking to the Israeli and- and also the armed group into Gaza strip, the Hamas, not to target any civilian infrastructure, not to target our shelter where we have half a million people seeking protection in the UNRWA school. And basically, whether there is a ground invasion or not, we need to continue to provide assistance and protection to the civilians more than ever.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Commissioner General for your time. We’ll be back in a moment.