The United Nations is investigating how 20 rockets ended up in one of its vacant schools in Gaza, which are closed for summer vacation.
The rockets were found on Tuesday during a regular inspection by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees of its facilities, but information about the find was only released Thursday.
The UN agency runs more than 200 schools in the Gaza Strip, which service more than 230,000 pupils.
“UNRWA strongly condemns the group or groups responsible for placing the weapons in one of its installations,” said spokesman Christopher Gunness.
“This is a flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law.”
Israel has in the past charged that terrorists hide weapons in UNRWA facilities in Gaza.
UNRWA has consistently denied these charges.
Gunness said this was the first time weapons had been found in an UNRWA facility in Gaza.
“This incident, which is the first of its kind in Gaza, endangered civilians, including staff, and put at risk UNRWA’s vital mission to assist and protect Palestine refugees in Gaza,” Gunness said. “Immediately after discovery, the agency informed the relevant parties and successfully took all necessary measures for the removal of the objects in order to preserve the safety and security of the school.”
UNRWA has a strict no-weapons policy and has procedures in place to ensure that its facilities are neutral places used for humanitarian purposes, the agency’s spokesman said.
To make sure this neutrality is upheld, it regularly inspects its facilities in Gaza, he said.
Gunness added that UNRWA was investigating the matter.
“Palestinian civilians in Gaza rely on UNRWA to provide humanitarian assistance and shelter. At all times, and especially during escalations of violence, the sanctity and integrity of UN installations must be respected,” he said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor called on the UN and the international community to condemn the placement of the rockets in the school.
It’s an act that endangers children and UN humanitarian activities, said Palmor, who added that it is also a “brazen violation of international law.”
“Yet again, Gaza terrorists abuse UN facilities to carry out their violent activities,” Palmor said. “Hamas and other terror groups are determined to put civilians in harm’s way and will respect nothing in their violent frenzy.”
A UN source said the newly formed national consensus Palestinian government in Ramallah had been informed of the incident, and that it promised to send a message to “all parties” in Gaza not to violate UNRWA’s neutrality.
One Western diplomat said that when UNRWA found the rockets, which were then removed, it had saved Israeli lives.
“This is a very important development as far as Israelis are concerned,” the diplomatic source said. “UNRWA’s neutrality procedures kicked in and as a result of this discovery by UNRWA staff, the agency has prevented 20 rockets being fired at civilians in Israel. Lives in Israel may well have been saved at a time when so many Israelis feel under threat.”