The U.S. says it is appalled by a strike that kills at least 10, including children, at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency school where around 3,000 are sheltering, apparently in response to militant actions near the UNRWA facility. The comment is the State Department’s strongest criticism yet of Israeli actions during Operation Protective Edge. Spokesperson:
The United States is appalled. The coordinates of the school, like all UN facilities in Gaza, have been repeatedly communicated to the Israeli Defense Forces […] Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties. The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.
Gaza officials say that at least 19 Palestinians die and 90 are wounded as a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency is struck by Israeli shells. The Israel Defense Forces says regarding its ongoing investigation:
Hamas militants fired mortar shells from the vicinity of the school, and [Israeli] soldiers responded by firing towards the origins of the fire
The United Nations issues a statement on conditions in Gaza. UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos:
Humanitarian organisations in Gaza are trying to help people in desperate and dangerous circumstances. People need food, water, medical care, safe shelter and other vital assistance. More families are being displaced every day and there are currently over 250,000 confirmed displaced people, 200,000 people in UNRWA shelters alone, in need of aid. This is over 10 per cent of the overall population of Gaza. Our capacity is stretched to the limit. World Food Programme is providing emergency food assistance to 204,000 people in addition to the regular food programmes and shortages of basic supplies have been reported in local markets. Given the deteriorating humanitarian situation, people’s needs will continue to grow.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency could be culpable as an accomplice to war crimes after it allegedly handed over rockets found in a UNRWA-run school to security forces run by Hamas. While the UN’s biggest agency subdivision, with 30,000 staff, apparently fulfilled its obligations by turning over the rockets to a Hamas-Fatah ‘unity’ police force, there is no public record of Fatah or non-Hamas ‘unity’ officials running a security force in the territory since the 2007 Hamas takeover, and the agency could have handed the rockets to a third party, placed them in an open field and notified the Israel Defense Forces of the location, or sought other options.
Israel Democracy Institute Vice President Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer says the UNRWA’s actions are a ‘war crime,’ although he says that there could be no criminal prosecution since it could never be criminally proven that the particular rockets were used to target Israelis, while Hebrew University Professor and former Foreign Ministry Legal Advisor Robbie Sabel says the UNRWA had no legal obligation to hand the rockets over to Israel and says he ‘would not make a capital case,’ but says that while UNRWA chief Christopher Gunness may have been unaware of Hamas’ involvement in the security forces, UNRWA workers on the ground in Gaza must have known.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency says it has handed over rockets found in one of its schools in Gaza to local police, raising the possibility it may have returned the armaments to a security force under the control of Hamas. UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness says the rockets were taken away by the local police bomb squad, which he says reports to the Palestinian government in Ramallah.
According to longstanding UN practice in UN humanitarian operations worldwide, incidents involving unexploded ordnance that could endanger beneficiaries and staff are referred to the local authorities. Local authorities fall under the government of national consensus in Ramallah. They pledged to pass a message to all parties not to violate UNRWA neutrality
However, internal security forces including local police are thought to report to the territory’s Interior Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas and the Qassam Brigades. A Senior Israeli official:
The rockets were passed on to the government authorities in Gaza, which is Hamas. In other words, UNRWA handed to Hamas rockets that could well be shot at Israel.