United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon accused Israel on Sunday of criminal activity in Gaza and of breaking international law in its military campaign against Hamas in the Strip.
He issued this particularly harsh statement in response to a UN report that 10 Palestinians were killed and 27 injured in an Israeli missile strike adjacent to the main gate of the UN Relief and Works Agency Boys’ Prep School ‘A’ in the town of Rafah, in southern Gaza.
“This attack, along with other breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated and those responsible held accountable. It is a moral outrage and a criminal act,” Ban’s office said.
Video from Reuters showed the bloodied bodies of two men and one child lying on the ground after the attack and wounded Palestinians being evacuated from the school yard.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US “was appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school” that sheltered 3,000 displaced persons.
The army said it was investigating the matter. A spokeswoman said that the IDF did kill a number of terrorists in that area, but that she did not believe the hit was close to the school.
Brig.-Gen. Motti Almoz told Channel 2 News that Hamas operates out of civilian areas and that the IDF does its utmost not to harm civilians and regrets any wounding of innocent Palestinians in Gaza. But he did not specifically address the issue of Sunday morning’s attack.
UNRWA itself reported that weapons have been found in three of its schools, but neither Sunday’s attack, nor any others have targeted those three facilities.
Psaki said, “The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.”
UNRWA has charged that Israeli shelling and/or artillery fire has directly hit five of its schools in the last few weeks. The UN has further charged that over 100 of its facilities in Gaza have been damaged in the fighting.
The US called for a prompt investigation into Sunday’s attack as well as the shelling of other UNRWA schools, Psaki said.
But her words paled in comparison to those from Ban’s office, which spoke of Israeli crimes, but did not mention Hamas, even though it said that “both parties” must protect Palestinian civilians and respect UN premises.
“United Nations shelters must be safe zones not combat zones. The Israel Defense Forces have been repeatedly informed of the location of these sites,” Ban’s office said.
“The secretary-general repeats his demand to the parties to immediately end the fighting and return to the path of peace. This madness must stop.”
The US similarly did not mention Hamas in its statement.
Psaki said, “We once again stress that Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties. UN facilities, especially those sheltering civilians, must be protected, and must not be used as bases from which to launch attacks.”
UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl and its Gaza director, Robert Turner, said that the IDF had been notified 33 times that Palestinian civilians had taken refuge in the boy’s school in Rafah.
“The last time was only an hour before the incident,” they said.
“We made two similar calls after the shelling incidents at our schools housing thousands of displaced people in Beit Hanun and Jabalya, which caused multiple deaths and injuries. We fully expect the result of these three investigations to be transmitted to us,” Krähenbühl and Turner said.
They added that 11 UNRWA workers have been killed in the Gaza conflict.
“While UNRWA will continue to provide all possible aid and protection to the displaced, we remind the parties that they must respect the sanctity of civilian life, the inviolability of UN property and that they must abide their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and humanitarian workers,” Krähenbühl and Turner said.
According to UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness, the organization is housing 270,000 displaced Palestinians in 90 schools across Gaza. Each shelter, he said, houses about 3,000 civilians.