UNRWA strongly condemns shelling of a school in Gaza sheltering civilians and calls for an investigation

UNRWA, July 21, 2014

East Jerusalem

UNRWA condemns in the strongest possible terms the shelling of one of its schools in the central area of Gaza which was sheltering hundreds of Palestinians displaced by the current fighting. At approximately 1655 hours yesterday, UNRWA’s  Maghazi Preparatory Girls School, in the Maghazi refugee camp, where approximately 300 internally displaced people had sought refuge was struck by explosive ordnance believed to have been fired by Israeli forces.  One person, a child, was injured in the shelling incident. We have raised this shelling incident with the Israeli authorities.

This morning when UNRWA officials went back to investigate the incident, there was further shelling of the school, seriously endangering the lives of UN humanitarian workers and displaced civilians. This second incident took place at approximately 1029 hours this morning and was 30 minutes inside the 0900 to 1100 hours window of time that had been coordinated with Israeli authorities and the UN to allow freedom of movement for the relevant UN personnel through the Maghazi Camp area.

Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner-General of UNRWA said: “This is a serious violation of United Nations’ premises that could have had far-reaching human consequences. All UNRWA facilities are clearly marked with a UN flag. The location of the school and the fact that it was housing internally displaced persons had been formally communicated to Israel on three separate occasions. We have called on the Israeli authorities to carry out an immediate and comprehensive investigation.”

UNRWA has been forced to expand massively its emergency operations as more than 118,000 internally displaced people have taken refuge in 77 of the Agency’s schools throughout the Gaza Strip. This number has increased from 50,000 only two days ago. Director of UNRWA Operations, Robert Turner, said, “Our teams are already working flat out to meet the huge demand created by this escalation in violence, and it is absolutely critical that all parties to the conflict respect the neutrality and inviolability of our premises. Operating in this challenging environment is difficult enough; we need to be assured that staff and beneficiaries can enjoy safety and security within our premises. Civilian lives must not be put at further risk.”

Background Information

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency’s General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 69 million.