‘Shameful’ killing of sleeping children in Gaza school is condemned by UN officials

Children in conflicts, Gordon Brown




A boy sits in the UN-run school which was damaged by rockets

The deadly shelling of another school sheltering Palestinians in Gaza has been condemned by senior United Nations officials.

The latest attack killed at least 17 people – including four children – and injured dozens more as they slept at the UN-run school in the Jabaliya camp. Three thousand people were believed to be in the building when it was struck.

The UN said evidence pointed to the school being shelled by Israel as part of its ongoing offensive that began on July 8 to stop rocket fire from Gaza.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children. I condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms. It is outrageous. It is unjustifiable. And it demands accountability and justice.”

More than 240,000 people are sheltering in schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and other public buildings. More than 130 schools have now been damaged during the current conflict – including 87 UNWRA schools and 49 government schools.

One injured and weeping girl told a BBC reporter at a Gaza hospital: “We were asleep when the strike happened. What do we have to do with all this?”

UNWRA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl said yesterday: “Last night children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN-designated shelter in Gaza.

“Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced. … I condemn in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces.

“We have moved beyond the realm of humanitarian action alone. We are in the realm of accountability. I call on the international community to take deliberate international political action to put an immediate end to the continuing carnage.”

Mr Krähenbühl said the precise location of the Jabaliya school had been communicated to the Israeli army 17 times to ensure its protection. The communications – the last just hours before the fatal shelling – included the fact it was housing thousands of internally displaced people, he added.

UNWRA is housing displaced people in 86 shelters throughout the Gaza Strip. An average of nearly 2400 people are taking refuge in each of the UNRWA schools, which normally have the capacity to accommodate only 500 people.

The Jabaliya attack follows a similar deadly shelling of a UNWRA-run school in Beit Hanoun.

Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, said the latest school attack emphasised the urgent need for both sides in the conflict to end the militarisation of schools and recognise that the violation of schools and schoolchildren is outlawed by the international community.

He said: “We have yet again seen another day in which 15 civilians, including children, have been killed in a UN run school compound in Gaza. 

“The international community must now adopt and enforce the Lucens principles. This would write into military manuals that schools are to be seen as safe havens for children not theatres for the execution of war.”

Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said protecting children caught up in the conflict had become “almost impossible”.

She added: “With more than 40% of the Gaza Strip being affected by evacuations or declared no-go zones, the civilian population is left with little possibility to seek protection. Over a quarter of all civilians killed since July 7, close to 250, are children.

“I call on all parties to end all grave violations against children, abide by their obligations under international law to respect the sanctity of life, protect schools and hospitals and honour their obligations to protect humanitarian workers.”

The conflict has killed more than 1300 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 50 Israelis, almost all of them soldiers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today his country will destroy the Hamas tunnel network in the Gaza Strip “with or without a cease-fire”. On the Jabaliya school shelling, Israel said its soldiers had been responding to rocket fire from the area.

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