Ban Ki-moon appalls as Israel hits UNRWA school

NEW YORK (CIHAN)- Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday (24 July) he was “appalled” by the news of an attack on a United Nations-run school in Gaza where hundreds of people had taken refuge from the ongoing hostilities, adding that the incident underscores the need to stop all fighting immediately.

In a statement read by Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq, Ban said from Erbil, Iraq that “many have been killed, including women and children, as well as UN staff.”

Media reports say at least 15 people died in the attack on the school in Beit Hanoun, which was run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). More than 100,000 Gazans – 5 per cent of the total population – have sought refuge in UNRWA facilities since the conflict began over two weeks ago.

Haq said that “at this stage we do not know, and I cannot verify who attacked the compound.” He said that “there should be no attacks by any side on UNRWA facilities, especially at this point when they are hosting so many innocent civilians who have been seeking shelter with them.”

The UN chief, who has been in the region this week to express solidarity with Israelis and Palestinians and to help them end the current cycle of violence, again stressed to all sides that they must abide by their international obligations to respect the sanctity of civilian life and the inviolability of UN premises, and to honour their obligations to humanitarian workers.

Haq said “there is not supposed to be any fire, any military activity taking place near UNRWA facilities. That is itself a violation of the rules and the laws governing this which are premised in the inviolability of UN premises.”

Regarding two instances when weapons had been found stored in abandoned UNRWA schools, he said “those had been handed over to the local authorities, the local police, in accordance to the standard practice. When a second incident came up, UNRWA explored a range of options that included ways of disabling the weapons. Unfortunately since then, the weapons have gone missing.”

He explained that “the Secretary General has directed the Department of Safety and Security and the UN Mine Action Service to develop immediately and implement an effective security plan for the safe and secure handling of any weapons that are discovered in UN premises.”

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), civilians in Gaza have no safe place to go with 44 per cent of the land declared a ‘no-go zone’ by the Israeli army. The UNRWA facilities are not immune to destruction. At least 18 medical facilities, include five UNRWA health clinics have been hit by airstrikes and shelling.