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On the record response to the IDF closing the criminal investigation into the shelling near the UNRWA school in Rafah, Gaza on 3 August 2014
On behalf of UNRWA Spokesperson Chris Gunness
UNRWA has not been given an opportunity to review the evidence but we have seen the explanation on the Israeli Military Advocate General’s website. In the circumstance it is therefore impossible for us to make specific comments about the way the case has been conducted.
According to the UN Secretary General’s Board of Inquiry, the incident took place at an UNRWA school which had been designated as an emergency shelter on 18 July. Between 2,700 to 2,900 people were sheltering there. The Israeli Army launched a precision-guided missile striking the road outside the school, which had opened its gates. 15 persons in the vicinity were killed, including a guard hired by UNRWA. As many as 30 people were injured. The Secretary General’s Board of Inquiry found that the missile was targeting people passing on a motorcycle.
We notified the Israeli Army on 33 separate occasions that this school in Rafah was being used to accommodate the displaced, the last time only an hour before the attack.
This raises serious questions about the conduct of military operations in relation to obligations under international humanitarian law and respect for the inviolability and sanctity of United Nations premises under international law.
UNRWA has consistently called for accountability. Investigations into such incidents are crucial and UNRWA has provided evidence in the process. We remain determined to ensure that incidents are thoroughly investigated.
UNRWA itself is not a tribunal or a judge. We have called for accountability in this case and in others that took place during the 2014 war. Any indication that responsibility was being evaded would be a matter of grave concern.
We note that no criminal responsibility seems to be accepted for any concluded cases concerning UNRWA premises. The families affected have had no effective redress and, from their perspective, this would certainly be seen as a further denial of their rights.
Two years after the end of the 2014 war, Israeli criminal investigations are still ongoing into the strikes on UNRWA emergency shelters in Beit Hanoun (24 July) and in Jabalia (30 July) that resulted together in some 29 civilian deaths and dozens of injuries. UNRWA has cooperated with the Israeli investigations. Despite follow up, however, UNRWA has received no news to date about progress on these investigations.
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 5.4 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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