The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon described the situation in Gaza as one of “horrifying levels of physical destruction”

Jul 30, 2014

UNRWA Staff members in Gaza listen to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaking to them from Cairo via Skype. Ban Ki-moon thanked them for their courageous efforts amid the ongoing conflict, which has now displaced over 140,000 people in the area. Photo: UN/Shareef Sarhan

“I am appalled by the news of an attack on an UNRWA school in Northern Gaza where hundreds of people had taken refuge. Many have been killed – including women and children, as well as UN staff,” according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s statement on Beit Hanoun on 24 July, 2014.

Mr. Ban expressed his profound condolences to the families of the victims and those of the many hundreds of innocent Gazans who have tragically been killed as a result of what he described as “the massive Israeli assault.”

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.

“I am telling to the parties – both the Israelis and Hamas and Palestinians – that it is morally wrong to kill your own people… Now it is time to sit down together, instead of killing each other,” he said at the press encounter with Mr. Kerry in Cairo on 24 July 2014.

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 UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) facilities are not immune to destruction. At least 18 medical facilities, include five UNRWA health clinics have been hit by airstrikes and shelling.

“We express shock at the high number of civilians killed and injured in the ongoing Israeli operations in Gaza and at the rocket attacks launched by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in Israeli civilian areas,” according to the UN news release.

The attack was also condemned by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which said the incident is proof that much more needs to be done to protect innocent children. “Using or attacking school premises where children have taken refuge from the violence is unacceptable under any circumstances,” it said in a statement.

In a related development, the head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) deplored the killing of Khaled Reyadh Hamad, a cameraman who was killed in the Shijaiyah neighbourhood of Gaza City on 20 July.

“It is essential that all recognize the civilian status of journalists, who must be able to carry out their work keeping us informed of events on the ground,” Director-General Irina Bokova said in a news release. “As stipulated by international agreements, journalists must be protected including when reporting from the scene.”

UNRWA is deeply saddened to report that already six UNRWA staff member have been killed during recent days. In a letter from UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl to staff, the aid agency said most fatalities were Palestinians and that it was withholding their names until their families had been notified.

“The first casualty, a colleague who had served UNRWA for 20 years, aged 55, was killed on 20 July by an air strike on a neighbouring house,” Krähenbühl said. On July 21, a 30-year-old teacher was killed along with 10 members of her family after fleeing fighting in Gaza City’s Shejaiya district. Krahenbuhl said the latest casualty was a 40-year-old teacher killed while on his way home from the Zaitoun school emergency shelter.

One UNRWA staff member, a 34-year-old father of four, was shot dead by Israeli forces and killed instantly in an operation in Kalandia refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. Credible reports say that he was on his way to work and was not engaged in any violent activity.

“Our colleagues are the first UNRWA staff to be killed in this conflict,” Krähenbühl wrote. “They were humanitarian workers, committed to their work and to serving Palestine refugees. Working in Gaza was never easy, particularly under the circumstances of siege and isolation. In these past weeks, however, it has become even harder, and yet they, like all of our colleagues, remain determined to do their utmost for the communities we (and the EU) support.”

Since the beginning of this latest outbreak of hostilities the European Commission has refocused its humanitarian assistance in Gaza to respond to the most urgent needs of its people. Today's additional aid brings the Commission's total humanitarian funding in Gaza in 2014 to €23.5 million.

"I am horrified by the loss of lives and injuries caused to civilians in Gaza," said Kristalina Georgieva, EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. "It is unconscionable that hospitals and schools, where there are terrified children, women, the sick and the elderly taking shelter, have become military targets. The appalling consequence is that in the last two days children have been killed at the rate of one an hour. It is intolerable that UN premises are subject to attacks."

“We are completely overwhelmed. This is a cry from the heart. We can't go on, we've reached breaking point.  It's intolerable that humanitarian workers are paying such an inordinately high price. It's got to stop” said UNRWA's Spokeperson Chris Gunness.

UNRWA condemns the killing of its staff members and calls on all sides, at this delicate time, to exercise maximum restraint and to act in accordance with obligations under international law.