25 July 2014 | Issue No. 17
On 7 July UNRWA declared an emergency in all five areas of the Gaza Strip in response to escalating violence between Israel and Hamas. Since then, civilian displacement and fatalities have risen sharply. According to the Protection Cluster, 83 Palestinians have been killed during this reporting period, including twelve women and nine children. The total number of Palestinian deaths reported by the Protection Cluster currently stands at 839 and the number of wounded, as reported by the Ministry of Health has reached 5,345. The number of displaced people is now triple the peak number from the 2008/9 conflict, and exceeds 150,137 in 84 schools. UNRWA has launched an emergency flash appeal for US$ 115 million to respond to the urgent and pressing humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza.
Past 24 hours: The past 24 hours has seen an appalling attack on an UNRWA school operating as a designated emergency shelter. On 23 July, Beit Hanoun Elementary Co-ed A and D School was hit by explosive projectiles causing multiple injuries and fatalities to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) taking refuge there. With the security situation in Beit Hanoun deteriorating rapidly during the course of the day, UNRWA had been attempting to negotiate with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) a pause in the fighting during which they would guarantee a safe corridor to relocate staff and any displaced person who chose to evacuate to a more secure location. Approval for that never came to UNRWA. The school’s coordinates had been formally conveyed to the Israeli authorities on twelve occasions.
The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon condemned the act and stressed again that all sides must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, to “respect the sanctity of civilian life, the inviolability of UN premises and to honor their obligations to humanitarian workers”. UNRWA Commissioner- General, Pierre Krähenbühl, speaking from Jerusalem reiterated calls for all parties to recognize and respect the sanctity, neutrality and inviolability of UN premises and described this tragedy as yet another illustration that no one in Gaza is safe.
UNRWA is gravely concerned about flagrant violations of international law being committed during this conflict. The appalling attack on Beit Hanoun School followed three previous incidents in just the past four days of UNRWA shelters being hit by explosive projectiles. UNRWA shelters provide refuge to civilians displaced by conflict in a context where people have nowhere else to go. Movement of people to and from Gaza remains virtually banned. For most Gazans, UNRWA shelters represent the only safe place in Gaza, and the deplorable attacks of the last few days place even this in jeopardy.
Levels of displacement in Gaza continue to grow, with the number of IDPs taking refuge in UNRWA shelters today passing 150,000. In some shelters, more than 80 people are sharing one classroom, placing great pressure on UNRWA resources and adding even more stress to already traumatized families. On 24 July UNRWA opened the last available school in Khan Younis as a designated emergency shelter. All available schools in Gaza and North Areas are already operating as shelters and are at capacity. The level of displacement currently being seen in Gaza is staggering, with numbers of IDPs in UNRWA shelters now triple the peak number from the 2008/09 conflict.
With such high numbers of displaced taking refuge in UNRWA shelters, the Agency is making huge efforts to provide vital humanitarian supplies to IDPs in all five areas of the Gaza Strip, but is facing massive challenges in terms of supply and access. UNRWA is facing particular challenges in northern areas of the Gaza Strip and in Bureij and Maghazi, due to the expanded Israeli- imposed ‘buffer zone’ and high levels of insecurity.
For example, IDPs in an UNRWA shelter in Maghazi have not been able to receive any water for four days due to access restrictions, and have been dependent on what little local communities are able to provide. Where UNRWA shelters are not receiving pumped water due to damaged or inaccessible infrastructure, UNRWA is delivering water with tankers. UNRWA has also been receiving support from Oxfam to provide drinking water to shelters; and is working to improve water infrastructure in UNRWA shelters in an effort to improve levels of access. UNRWA, together with the World Food Programme (WFP) are also under great pressure in delivering bread and other food items to shelters in the northern Gaza Strip as suppliers in these areas are stretched to capacity. In addition, some food stores are located in areas that require prior coordination with Israeli authorities due to the 3km Israeli- imposed ‘buffer zone’. With numbers of people displaced during this conflict far surpassing initial estimates, UNRWA is grateful for donations of NFIs that have been received, including mattresses, blankets and hygiene kits. UNRWA continues to face daily challenges in delivering these supplies in sufficient quantities to all areas of the Gaza Strip.
Reportedly there were 102 rockets and 46 mortar shells fired towards Israel. There were also reports that 127 missiles were fired into Gaza in addition to 45 navy shells and 740 tank shells. Reportedly, 35 houses were bombarded.
A total of 92 UNRWA installations have been damaged since 1 June, 2014, many of them on multiple occasions.
In the past 24 hours, five UNRWA installations were damaged, including three schools, a sanitation office and a maintenance office
UNRWA has launched an emergency flash appeal for US$ 115 million to provide emergency assistance to 150,000 people through its shelters- where food, NFI and psychosocial support are provided- and through health and social service facilities available to those not taking refuge in UNRWA shelters. This funding will also allow UNRWA to start early recovery activities once hostilities cease.
More information on the appeal can be found here.