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UNRWA's Chris Gunness slams "callousness" of Israel's Gaza assault

November 26, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Chris Gunness, spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), slammed Tuesday what he called the “callousness” of Israel’s summer assault on the Gaza Strip.

Speaking at a symposium in London to mark the 20th anniversary of UK-based charity Interpal, Gunness said that while the war was “predictable”, the UN agency’s staff had been “completely taken by surprise by its ferocity, its scope and its sheer callousness.”

Providing an update on the Israeli attacks on UN-run facilities in the Gaza Strip, Gunness noted that on seven separate occasions, UNRWA schools sheltering people were hit.

The UN official noted that “the precise GPS coordinates of all our installations in Gaza were conveyed to the relevant authorities before the conflict began”, as well as during the hostilities.

In the case of the attack on the school in Beit Hanoun on 24 July, the Israeli army was notified of the coordinates 12 times – in the case of Jabalia school on 30 July, 17 times, and in the case of a UN school in Rafah hit on 3 August, UNRWA notified the Israeli army no less than 33 times.

Gunness said that the attacks on the schools in Beit Hanoun, Jabalia and Rafah, killed a cumulative total of 45 civilians.

Gunness also condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the armed groups which had hidden rockets in three UNRWA schools, calling it a serious violation of international law.

According to the UNRWA spokesperson, the confirmed death toll in Gaza stands at 2,254, including 538 children. “We estimate that of the 3,000 children injured, 1,000 will have some form of disability for the rest of their lives”, he added, noting that 70 percent of fatalities are “believed to be civilians.”

138 students attending UNRWA schools are confirmed killed, with an additional 814 injured and 560 having lost either their father, their mother or both parents.

By the end of the assault, 118 UNRWA installations had been damaged, of which 83 were schools and 10 were health centres. Israeli attacks killed 11 UNRWA staff members – “the majority killed were inside their homes.”

Gunness noted that an estimated 120,000 homes were left damaged or destroyed, with an estimated 8,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance littering the fenced-in territory.

During his remarks to the invitation-only audience, Gunness urged the international community to “make Gaza a liveable place again” by “addressing the underlying causes of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict: an end to the occupation that has ground on for nearly half a century and a full lifting of the illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip.”