A spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides aid to Palestinians in Gaza, broke down in tears during a TV interview in the aftermath of Wednesday’s fatal attack on a UN-run school, used as shelter.
Twenty people were reportedly killed after a shell hit the UNRWA school in Jabalia, Gaza, where 3,300 people had been taking refuge.
Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the UNRWA, was unable to check himself while giving an interview to Al Jazeera Arabic the same day.
“The rights of Palestinians, even their children, are wholesale denied,” he official said before breaking down sobbing in front of the camera.
“There are times when tears speak more eloquently than words. Mine pale into insignificance compared with Gaza’s,” Gunness said, as cited by Reuters.
In a promptly-released condemnatory statement, the UN said its evidence suggested Israel was behind the attack.
“Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame,” the statement read.
The attack in Jabalia was the sixth time UN-run schools have been hit during Israel’s current campaign.
The Israeli military said it was still investigating the incident, and claimed the troops had to fire back after Palestinian militants fired mortar shells from the vicinity of the UNRWA school.
According to the UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl, those sheltering in the attacked school were people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army.
“The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army 17 times, to ensure its protection; the last being at 8:50 pm last night, just hours before the fatal shelling,” the official said.
UN struggling to cope with humanitarian disaster
The UN agency in Gaza has been struggling to cope with the increasing flood of refugees in the region amid a humanitarian crisis as a result of ongoing violence between Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters.
“UNRWA is overwhelmed in Gaza. We have reached breaking point; our staff are being killed, our shelters overflowing. Where will it end … UNRWA now has 225,178 displaced in 86 shelters. But Gaza is being destroyed. So when the war is over, where will these people go?” Gunness said.
The organization said that due to a lack of resources and an increasingly deteriorating security environment, it “does not have infinite capacity to absorb an increasing IDP influx.” The remaining empty UNRWA schools “are either inaccessible or unsafe, and other shelter solutions, for example tents, are not viable options for Gaza,” the agency said in a statement.
Additionally, given the lack of clean water and sanitation facilities in the shelters, the aid agency fears a public health disaster. Food, medicine and insecticide are also in short supply. Besides that, the UN said that hundreds of thousands of traumatized children would need urgent psychiatric counseling.
On Thursday, the UNRWA made an urgent appeal for $187 million to buy beds and basic supplies for those for the refugees and to stem the rise of diseases, according to Reuters.
Gaza officials say at least 1,361 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the Israeli offensive on the enclave. Israel says it lost 56 soldiers in the conflict. Eight UN employees have also been killed in the conflict.
“Nothing and nobody is safe in Gaza,” the UNRWA said.
‘It is a human catastrophe in Gaza’ – UNRWA spokesperson
Potentially hundreds of thousands of people, including women and children, have been made homeless in just over three weeks, UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunnes told RT.
‘Only political actions and influence can make a difference in Gaza,’ Gunnes said.
RT: Am I right in thinking you’ve actually been there, and managed to see the destruction for yourself. Just how bad was it?
Christopher Gunnes: UNRWA has made an inspection at the site. We have analyzed the crater, there has been crater analysis, trajectory analysis, we have examined the debris, we have examined the damage – and are confident enough to make a strong public condemnation of the Israeli army for this serious violation of international law, we are confident enough to make a public statement. It was indeed Israeli artillery which struck the school. We made 17 calls to the Israeli army, we gave them the precise coordinates of the school and we made it clear to them that there were 3300 people at the school, so they knew very well where this place was, and despite that it still got struck, which is why we’ve moved into the realm of accountability, we need to find out what happened.
RT: These children are the future generations of Palestinians here. What impact is this conflict having on them?
CG: We estimate that there are 75,000 children in Gaza, and I am sure the figure is much higher, and they are deeply traumatized. That is why in our appeal we are asking for $3-4 million to have counseling for these traumatized children. And you know, there are scars you can see, and there are scars you can’t see. We saw the wounds, but the psychological scars are going to be far, far deeper.
RT: On Thursday another UN school has been shelled. Is there a way to stop this from happening?
CG: That’s a very good question indeed, and you need to put it to the Israeli army.
RT:There have been some reports of stockpiles of Hamas rockets found in UN schools – how could this have happened?
CG: Who knows? In fighting in Gaza in 2007-2009 we took direct hits with white phosphorous and on one occasion our main compound in Gaza City was hit and our largest warehouse servicing all of the Gaza Strip was hit with white phosphorous and burned to the ground. The [UN] Secretary General condemned it. Israel apologized and paid millions in compensation. And here we are again, in the same situation. It was not white phosphorous, of course, but here we are in the situation where thousands of people take refuge in the UN school and it takes a direct hit with Israeli fire. I think that we have moved into the realm of political action here. Only political actions and influences brought to bear on the relevant parties can make a difference, and we all know what the relative parties are and what kind of influence needs to be brought to bear.
RT: With the only power plant destroyed and hundreds of thousands having fled their homes – is it fair to call this a humanitarian catastrophe?
CG: Absolutely. 200,000 people plus nearly a quarter a million, in fact, have taken refuge in our shelters, 86 across the Gaza Strip. The Israeli authorities, the army have been leafleting, hundreds of thousands of people apparently and sending text messages telling them to leave. So that all adds up to potentially 400,000 people. On top of that people took refuge with families and friends. So goodness knows how many hundreds of thousands of people will be made homeless. Meanwhile, their homes are being destroyed. Many of them have their homes completely flattened. So they will be made homeless, they have been made homeless. I would describe that potentially hundreds of thousands of people, including women and children, have been made homeless in just over three weeks. I think it is a human catastrophe.