The Neutrality and Inviolability of UNRWA Installations Must be Respected at All Times

04 June 2021

UNRWA is deeply concerned about actions by parties to the conflict during recent hostilities in Gaza that caused damage to its installations and violated its inviolability and neutrality.

With no advanced warning, between 13 and 15 May 2021, the Israeli Air Force conducted strikes that caused damage to UNRWA installations, most notably to the UNRWA Zaitoun Preparatory Boys’ School “A” and Elementary Boys’ School “A”. This included the school inner compound yard, which was struck by two missiles, contrary to the inviolability of UNRWA premises and despite the schools being designated as an emergency shelter for civilians during the 11-day escalation. The strike calls into question respect for the fundamental principle of inviolability. Thankfully, no displaced persons were inside the school at the time of the strike and no physical injuries were caused.

The Agency's installations, like all United Nations facilities, are marked as such and fly a United Nations flag on the roof. UNRWA shares the coordinates of all of its installations periodically with relevant Israeli authorities and in times of conflict, the coordinates of designated emergency shelters are shared daily.

While investigating how to secure the building from the missiles, a detailed assessment on 31 May 2021 revealed what appears to be a cavity and a possible tunnel, at the location of the missile strike. The depth of the cavity is approximately 7.5 meters below the surface of the school. UNRWA discovered the existence of a possible tunnel in the context of the investigation of the fired missiles. There is no indication of the existence of any entry or exit points for the tunnel within the premises.

UNRWA condemns the existence and potential use by Palestinian armed groups of such tunnels underneath its schools in the strongest possible terms. It is unacceptable that students and staff be placed at risk in such a way.

UNRWA demands that all parties desist from any activities or conduct that put beneficiaries and staff at risk and undermine the ability of UNRWA staff to provide assistance to Palestine refugees in safety and security.  UNRWA installations are inviolable, and their neutrality must be respected at all times.

UNRWA calls for the parties to the conflict to act in accordance with international law. Letters of protest regarding this incident have been sent to both parties.

Background Information: 

UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA programme budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s programme budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5.7 million Palestine refugees registered with UNRWA across its five fields of operation. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.

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