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This is a preliminary report, and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Today an UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun acting as a shelter for Palestinians fleeing the fighting in northern Gaza was hit by several shells, killing at least 16 people and wounded dozens more. You’ll find an excellent video report on the incident by NBC’s Richard Engel here. Earlier BBC reporting on the attack can be found here.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbül issued a statement on the attack:

Jerusalem

The scenes of carnage and human suffering that we witnessed today at our elementary school in Beit Hanoun were so appalling and intolerable, that it is difficult to find the words to convey adequately my indignation. As has happened so many times in this pitiless conflict, civilians are paying the highest price of the current military escalation. I condemn this callous shelling and the extensive loss of life in the strongest possible terms and call for an immediate investigation to ensure that circumstances and responsibilities are comprehensively and irrefutably established.

At approximately 14:55 today, as hostilities were intensifying, UNRWA’s Beit Hanoun Elementary Co-Ed A and D school compound was struck by explosive projectiles, causing death and injuries to multiple displaced Palestinian civilians who had sought refuge in this UN installation. This school had been designated as an UNRWA Emergency Shelter.

The security situation in the Beit Hanoun area was deteriorating rapidly and over the course of the day UNRWA had been attempting to negotiate with the Israeli Defence Forces a pause in the fighting during which they would guarantee a safe corridor to relocate staff and any displaced persons who chose to evacuate to a more secure location. Approval for that never came to UNRWA. In addition, the school’s coordinates had been formally conveyed to the Israeli authorities on 12 occasions, most recently at 10:56 this morning.

These Palestinians, many of them women and children had come to this school for refuge believing that a UN installation would offer them a higher level of safety and security having been displaced from their homes as a result of the current fighting. That belief was based on the binding commitment of the international community and on the binding obligation of parties to the conflict under international law to respect the inviolability and sanctity of UN premises, and on the many years during which UNRWA has done its utmost to provide them protection.

This is the fourth time in the past four days that an UNRWA school has been struck by explosive projectiles. Today’s tragedy was yet another illustration that no one in Gaza is safe. I call once again on all parties to this conflict to recognize and respect the sanctity, neutrality and inviolability of UN premises. I further call for an immediate cease-fire to end the killing and maiming as well as the devastation and traumas that will mark the population for decades. Enough is enough.

Israel initially implied that the attack might have been the result of errant Hamas rocket fire falling short.

It also suggested that Hamas had fired from the immediate area, and that the IDF had returned fire.

The IDF insisted that it had requested that the school be evacuated, but that Hamas had prevented this:

However, UNRWA denied that an evacuation had been coordinated with the IDF, and stressed that it had repeatedly told the IDF of the school’s location and status as a refugee centre:

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Reports of the incident suggest there were several explosions in close proximity and relatively quick succession, which is not consistent with errant rocket fire (Given the crude design of local rockets and the ways in which they are usually fired, these would not be expected to cluster so closely.)

Other reports suggested an Israeli tank had fired on the location. However, images of the site are not consistent with fire from a tank main gun either. The blast is also much smaller than one would expect from 155mm or similar indirect artillery fire.

As can be seen in the image below, the blast pattern is relatively circular, suggesting a high-trajectory weapon such as an infantry mortar, or possibly a projectile fired from a grenade launcher at high angle. This is also consistent with the reported rate of fire.

A crater marks the centre of a courtyard at a United Nations-run school sheltering Palestinians displaced by an Israeli ground offensive in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip

Moreover, the radius of damage to the pavement is relatively small, suggesting a relatively small calibre weapon. Images from other conflicts (see below) suggest that the damage appears most consistent with a light or medium mortar. Several military analysts consulted by PRRN came to similar conclusions based on the picture above.

Blast damage from insurgent 60mm mortar used against US base in Iraq.

Blast damage from insurgent light mortar used against a US base in Iraq.

Mortar munitions are designed to fragment to maximize the spread of shrapnel, and often leave little behind other than the small tail assembly. Locally-made rockets tend to leave the much large rocket casing partially intact, and are therefore quickly identified. Some reporters who visited the scene have commented on the absence of a rocket casing.

While Hamas is known to field some mortars, the IDF deploys much larger numbers of these, and has been using them much more frequently. 60mm mortars are both deployed with Israeli infantry units and integrated into many Israeli armoured fighting vehicles. Depending on configuration, these have a typical range of around 1,600m. IDF troops were certainly active well within this area.

In later interviews IDF spokespersons have admitted to the possibility that Israeli mortar rounds may have hit the school.

In a previous attack against the Al-Fakhura school in Jabalia Camp in Gaza in January 2009 an Israeli mortar shell was found to be responsible. Some 42 people were killed in that incident.

UPDATE (25/7/2014)

UNRWA has denied reports circulating online that it had claimed outgoing rocket fire in area of school:

An UN team, including a munitions expert, sought to visit the school to investigate what happened there. They were unable to complete their investigation due to fighting in the area, however:

Finally, UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness also reminds us how serious the problem of forced displacement has become in Gaza:

Hamas, UNRWA, and the shelter issue

Posted: July 23, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, Hamas, Israel, UNRWA

Today the Israeli Defence Forces tweeted that Hamas had called upon UNRWA to refrain from opening up shelters for those Gazans fleeing the current fighting:

thumb.phpIn fact, the statement (here, in Arabic) from the Hamas Department of Refugee Affairs is a little more nuanced that. First, it certainly does discourage Palestinians from leaving their homes:

We call on our people in the border areas of to be steadfast and not to leave their areas, because that is part of the psychological warfare practiced by the enemy. There must be no success for the aggressive policy of occupation, as happened in the Nakba in 1948.

The statement does not exactly forbid UNRWA from opening shelters, however, but rather asks that this only be done in coordination with the popular committees in the camps and the Ministry of the Interior. It warns that UNRWA should open facilities where the safety of these from israeli attack can be assured:

We call on UNRWA to not open shelters or open schools as evacuation centers without coordination with the popular refugee committees and the Interior Ministry and concerned authorities. UNRWA holds full responsibility for the safety of displaced persons sheltering them, for we still recall the massacre Fakhurah in the War of 2009, where UNRWA did not protect its school nor did the occupation [Israel] bear results of its crime. It also did not protect the UNRWA headquarters, which Israel bombed repeatedly.

An IDF mortar attack against the area of the Fakhurah school in 2009 killed some forty persons.

The statement also calls upon the Hamas administration to encourage steadfastness and discourage flight:

We call on the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs to redouble their efforts to stabilize families in their homes and neighbourhoods and towns, and to disseminate reassurance to them throughout the day and night, and to raise the level of steadfastness and sacrifice. They must warn them of the consequences of displacement and remind them of the painful experiences of [past] asylum and displacement.

Net verdict: Hamas is discouraging refugees from relocating to shelters, and would clearly like to discourage UNRWA from opening additional shelters without Hamas approval (although it is taking no actual active measures to prevent UNRWA from doing so). The reasons for Hamas policy are not clear from the statement itself. Certainly there is a concern with being once more displaced by Israel—after all, the vast majority of the population of Gaza are those whose families were ethnically cleansed in 1948 and driven into exile. There may also be some concern, as expressed in the statement, with the coordination of policy.

However, it is also likely that Hamas finds political and military advantage in the presence of large civilian populations in dense urban areas, hoping that this constrains Israeli actions. Conversely, the flight of civilians in these areas would certainly work to the IDF’s tactical and political advantage—precisely why it has encouraged the local population to flee.

Where they are supposed to go, of course, isn’t always clear. Given the scope of Israeli attacks and the high proportion of civilian casualties—over 70% by UN estimate—there are are no truly safe places in Gaza to which anyone can flee.

UNRWA Gaza situation report, 22 July 2014

Posted: July 22, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, Israel, UNRWA

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UNRWA’s Gaza situation report for 22 July 2014:

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. The total number of Palestinian deaths currently stands at 582. The number of displaced into UNRWA schools is now double the peak number from the 2008/9 conflict, and now exceeds 102,000 in 68 schools. UNRWA has already had to revise its emergency flash appeal to US$ 115 million to respond to the dramatically increased humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza.


GENERAL

Past 24 hours: Serious concerns were raised over the past 24 hours regarding respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL). UNRWA strongly condemns an attack on an UNRWA school in Maghazi sheltering approximately 1,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and operating as a designated emergency shelter. The shelter was struck by explosive ordnance believed to have been fired by Israel, which injured one IDP. Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir El Baleh was also reportedly shelled, killing five people, including two doctors, and wounding at least 70. These incidents represent distinct breaches of IHL and come as the international community is increasingly expressing concern with the high numbers of civilian casualties in Gaza. UNRWA reiterates calls made by the international community for full respect for IHL, including full respect for the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack during the conduct of hostilities.

The number of Palestinians killed in the conflict passed 500 today. In the past 24- hour period, 107 Palestinians were killed, including 22 women and 22 children. Devastatingly, the bodies of 12 members of one family, all children, were removed from the rubble of a building in Bani Suhaila, Khan Younis on 21 July. At least 3,720 Palestinians were injured during this 24-hour period. Nine Israeli soldiers were reportedly killed during this period, with international media reporting that the Israeli death toll currently stands at 29, including 2 civilians.

With an ongoing and intensifying ground operation, levels of displacement continue to grow. In the past 24 hours, almost 18,000 additional people sought refuge in UNRWA shelters, bringing the total number of IDPs in UNRWA shelters to 102,788. This figure represents about 6 per cent of Gaza’s total population. As of 22 July, IDPs are being housed in 68 UNRWA shelters, with shelters in Beit Hanoun and Maghzai having been closed and IDPs moved to other shelters during this period due to heavy fighting.

Despite the sharp increase in displacement over the past 24 hours, UNRWA, in partnership with WFP, was able to provide basic food to every IDP who presented themselves at UNRWA shelters. The food basket provided in UNRWA shelters was today diversified to include bread, cans of tuna, canned meat, cream cheese and vegetables. 12 truckloads of Non Food Items (NFIs) were delivered to shelters in this 24-hour period.

While responding to the urgent needs of displaced Gazans, UNRWA has continued its regular operations to the degree that  security has permitted. On 21 July, 13 out of 21 UNRWA Health Centers were open and 6,783 patients presented at UNRWA Health Centers across the Gaza Strip, including 505 children. UNRWA sanitation workers have continued to collect solid waste from UNRWA Camps and shelters. On 21 July, 351 Sanitation Laborers reported to work in all but three areas of the Gaza Strip (Bureij, Maghazi and Deir El Baleh were inaccessible due to heavy fighting and access restrictions); and removed 201 tones of solid waste.

On 21 July, an airlift of urgent humanitarian supplies from International Humanitarian City (IHC) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) landed at Marka International Airport, Jordan. Under the direction of HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the airlift included 45,000 mattresses, 10,000 blankets and 220 hygiene kits; and is currently being transported to Gaza. This generous donation is welcomed by UNRWA and will be of great help in providing urgently needed supplies to UNRWA shelters which are under enormous pressure. The IHC has also coordinated for further airlifts of humanitarian supplies to Gaza, including jerry cans, sleeping mats, blankets, tarpaulins, hygiene kits and kitchen sets. As highlighted by UNRWA Commissioner- General, Pierre Krähenbühl, this support “is one of the best examples of how effective humanitarians can be when working together”.

International efforts continue to bring about a peaceful resolution to the current conflict. UN Secretary- General, Ban Ki-Moon, speaking from Cairo on 21 July, stressed once again that “the violence must stop – it must stop now” and described Gaza as “an open wound”. The Secretary- General recognized that “going back to the status quo ante won’t solve the problem; it will defer it for another day”. For a sustainable peace to be maintained, a long term solution is needed to the ongoing conflict in Gaza, which is compounding the devastating effects of years of blockade and isolation of Gaza. UNRWA reiterates calls from the international community both for a cessation in hostilities and an end to the crippling blockade on Gaza.

  UNRWA RESPONSE

  • UNRWA is now providing shelter to more than 102,788 beneficiaries all five areas of the Gaza Strip. There are currently 68 designated emergency shelters, with more expected to open throughout the day. The priority continues to be the provision of food, water, sleeping, hygiene and cleaning items.
  • During this period, food and water rations were distributed to shelters. This includes 15 trucks of NFIs and 40 of food.
  • 40,000 tonnes of diesel were delivered to water and sewage pump stations.
  • Regular UNRWA operations are affected but continue as security permits. 13 of 21 health clinics remain operational, and regular UNRWA services are available. 6,783 people visited UNRWA health clinics on 21 July, including 505 children who had regular check-ups and/or immunizations. In addition, there were 276 visits to the dentist at UNRWA health clinics.
  • Regular sanitation operations continue, with 351 sanitation workers reporting for work in all but 3 areas of the Gaza Strip. Maghazi, Bureij and Deir El Baleh were inaccessible due to heavy fighting and access restrictions.

SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS

Reportedly, there were 205 rockets and 51 mortar shells fired towards Israel. There were also reports that 183 missiles were fired into Gaza in addition to 233 navy shells and 963 tank shells. Reportedly, 66 houses were bombarded.

For the first time in this conflict, an UNRWA staff member, a female teacher, has been confirmed to have been killed.

UNRWA INSTALLATIONS

A total of 77 UNRWA installations have been damaged since 1 June 2014.

In the past 24 hours, two UNRWA installations were damaged – one school in Beit Hanoun and one in Maghazi.

FUNDING NEEDS

On 17 July, UNRWA launched an emergency flash appeal for US$ 60 million to respond to the urgent and pressing humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, including the thousands who have already fled their homes to seek safety in UNRWA facilities. This funding was to enable UNRWA to respond to the immediate shelter, food, health and psychosocial needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs), while replenishing emergency supplies and preparing for vital interventions necessary after a cessation of military activities. The emergency response phase was expected to last for one month, and the early recovery a further three to six months.

Based on the escalating number of IDPs and further destruction of shelters, a revised appeal was released on 22 July, for an additional US$ 55 million.  UNRWA now estimates that US$ 115 million is needed 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 by here.

CROSSINGS

  • Rafah crossing was open for foreign passport holders and wounded Palestinians.
  • Erez was open only for foreigners and humanitarian medical cases.
  • Kerem Shalom crossing was open for food and fuel.

In addition, see also the UN OCHA Gaza emergency situation report for this day.

Democracy Now interviews UNRWA spokesperson Gunness

Posted: July 22, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, UNRWA

From Democracy Now:

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees says the number of people seeking refuge at its sites in Gaza has soared to more than 100,000. According to unconfirmed reports, one of the shelters, a girl’s school in central Gaza, was hit Monday by an Israeli shell. We speak to Christopher Gunness, spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). “The situation for refugees on the ground in Gaza right now is unimaginably catastrophic,” Gunness says.

Full video here.

 

The Atlantic: Kerry’s Middle East peace plan

Posted: July 21, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Israel, peace process, US

The Atlantic this week has a lengthy and detailed piece by Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon on “The Explosive, Inside Story of How John Kerry Built an Israel-Palestine Peace Plan—and Watched It Crumble.” The article is very useful, although it does tend to focus more on the side-deals to keep the talks going rather than providing great insight into the substantive issues under negotiation.

It also contains a brief reference of where the US and Israel were on the refugee issue:

By late January, the Americans believed that their strategy of patient engagement with Netanyahu was finally paying off. After months of painstaking negotiations over every word in the framework, the prime minister had accepted once-unthinkable language. On refugees, the document would promise monetary compensation to Palestinians displaced in Israel’s War of Independence (and, separately, to Jews who left their homes in the Arab world). It also stated clearly that “the Palestinian refugee problem” would be solved within the new Palestinian state. But, in a groundbreaking departure from Israeli policy and his previous statements, Netanyahu agreed to a mechanism whereby Israelat its sole discretionwould admit some refugees on a humanitarian basis.

What is painted here as a major concession (“sovereign discretion”) was in fact part of the December 2000 Clinton Parameters, and indeed was also part of the Israeli negotiating position throughout 1999-2001 [1]. Compensation to Jews from Arab countries was first put on the table at the Camp David talks in July 2000.

In other words, what are being reported as a “groundbreaking departure” is 14 years old, even if Netanyahu himself only belatedly endorsed it. It is also significantly less flexible than the Israeli position in Taba in January 2001, where Israeli negotiators were prepared to offer concrete numbers for returning refugees.

 

[1] Gilead Sher, The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations, 1999-2001 (London: Routledge, 2006).

UNRWA Gaza situation report, 21 July 2014

Posted: July 21, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, Israel, UNRWA

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The following situation report was issued by UNRWA today.

On 7 July, in response to escalating violence between Israel and Hamas, UNRWA declared an emergency in all five areas of the Gaza Strip. The number of displaced people has since gone beyond the peak number from the 2008/9 conflict, and exceeds 84,000 in 67 schools. UNRWA has launched an emergency flash appeal for US$ 60 million to respond to the urgent and pressing humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, including the thousands who have already fled their homes to seek safety in UNRWA facilities.


GENERAL

Past 24 hours: The past 24 hours marked the deadliest period since the current escalations of violence began, with 107 Palestinians killed, including 23 women and 35 children. Tragically, the total number of children killed in the current conflict has now passed 100 and represents almost one quarter of all Palestinian fatalities. 13 Israeli soldiers were reportedly killed in this 24- hour period.

The densely populated Shejayeh area, in the Eastern part of Gaza City suffered the most extreme levels of violence during this period, with at least 72 Palestinians killed (38 men, 13 women and 21 children) in a major escalation of the IDF ground offensive. A brief humanitarian pause to evacuate the wounded and dead was only partially implemented, with rescuers reportedly unable to access some areas of Shejayeh to provide assistance. Scenes at Shifa Hospital following the escalation in Shejayeh have been widely reported, with hospital staff overwhelmed with mass casualties.

An expanded IDF ground offensive has resulted in an exponential increase in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs); it is estimated that up to half of Shejayeh’s residents fled their homes in reported scenes of panic during this period. The number of displaced Palestinians in UNRWA shelters across the Gaza Strip climbed sharply from 63,000 on 20 July to 84,843 on 21 July. This sharp increase has presented significant challenges to UNRWA operations, with shelters overwhelmed with huge numbers of displaced.

The scope of displacement is expected to further increase, with a ground offensive in place in six areas of the Gaza Strip. In Beit Hanoun the ground offensive now reaches to 1000 meters inside Gazan territory. In Middle Area, leaflets were dropped by the IDF in Maghazi Camp overnight requesting residents to leave their homes, and raising concerns of a possible expansion of the ground offensive in that area.

The continuing conflict is having an impact on delivery of basic services. Despite strong commitment from UNRWA sanitation staff, the Agency is struggling to maintain solid waste management operations in the context of ongoing escalations in violence and high numbers of IDPs in shelters. This presents a potential serious public health risk.

The ongoing conflict also presents a major concern regarding the risk of Unexploded Ordnance (UXO), especially to children. UNRWA is providing basic UXO awareness in shelters and will delivering a morecomprehensive awareness program once current hostilities cease.

“Gaza is an open wound”. This is how, speaking from Doha on 20 July, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon described the current situation in Gaza. The Secretary- General condemned the killings of civilians, including children in Shejayeh as an “atrocious action” and called for an immediate end to the violence, stating that “too many innocent civilians are dying”. The Secretary- General’s statement was made during a late- night session of the UN Security Council, at which members reportedly expressed serious concern at rising casualty numbers and called for respect of international humanitarian law to be upheld. International pressure for an end to the conflict is continuing; with US Secretary of State John Kerry expected in Egypt discuss the crisis.

UNRWA RESPONSE

  • UNRWA is now providing shelter to more than 84,843 beneficiaries all five areas of the Gaza Strip. There are currently 67 designated emergency shelters, with more expected to open throughout the day. The priority continues to be the provision of food, water, sleeping and cleaning items.
  • Over the past 24 hours, food and water rations were distributed to shelters. This includes 233 family hygiene kits, 168 baby hygiene kits, 6940 mattresses, 3191 blankets, 54,489 tins of tuna, and 16,512 50- piece packets of bread.
  • Regular sanitation operations continue, with more than half of sanitation staff reporting for work, removing 136 tones of solid waste.
  • Regular UNRWA operations are affected but continue as security permits. 15 of 21 health clinics remain operational, and regular UNRWA services are available. 4549 people visited UNRWA health clinics yesterday, including more than 300 children who had regular check-ups and/or immunizations. There were 174 visits to the dentist at UNRWA health clinics and 33 people had appointments with psychosocial counselors.

SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS

Reportedly, there were 101 rockets and 37 mortar shells fired towards Israel. IAF conducted 131 raids firing 182 missiles. Israeli navy fired 146 shells; and 721 tank shells were fired. 66 houses were bombarded.

UNRWA INSTALLATIONS

A total of 75 UNRWA installations have been damaged since 1 June, 2014.

In the past 24 hours, three UNRWA installations were damaged – one school in Bureij, a school in Nuseirat and the Microfinance Office in Middle Area.

FUNDING NEEDS

UNRWA has launched an emergency flash appeal for US$ 60 million to respond to the urgent and pressing humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, including the thousands who have already fled their homes to seek safety in UNRWA facilities. New funding will enable UNRWA to respond to the immediate shelter, food, health and psychosocial needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs), while replenishing emergency supplies and preparing for vital interventions necessary after a cessation of military activities. The emergency response phase is expected to last for one month, and the early recovery a further three to six months. More information on the appeal can be found by here.

Based on the escalating number of IDPs and further destruction of shelters, a revised appeal will be released shortly.

CROSSINGS

  • Rafah crossing was open for foreign passport holders and wounded Palestinians.
  • Erez was open only for foreigners and humanitarian medical cases.
  • Kerem Shalom crossing was open for food and fuel.

Since it was written, the situation has continued to deteriorate. According to UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness:

In addition, UN OCHA‘s humanitarian situation report for 21 July 2104 can be found here.

UNRWA Gaza situation report, 20 July 2014

Posted: July 20, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, Israel, UNRWA

Emergency updates from UNRWA can be found here.

GAZA SITUATION REPORT 12

20 July 2014 | Issue No. 12

On 7 July, in response to escalating violence between Israel and Hamas, UNRWA declared an emergency in all five areas of the Gaza Strip. The number of displaced people has since gone beyond the peak number from the 2008/9 conflict, and now exceeds 50,000 in 44 UNRWA schools in addition to thousands more who are displaced due to the conflict. UNRWA has launched an emergency flash appeal for US$ 60 million to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza.


GENERAL

Past 24 hours: The tragedy of the conflict continued to unfold in Gaza overnight as the number of civilian fatalities increased yet again, with thousands more distraught civilians displaced by the relentless violence. In addition to ongoing fighting in the north of Gaza and in eastern Khan Younis, two new Israeli ground incursions occurred over night – one in the Middle Area and another in Shejaiha, east of Gaza City. At 08:00 there were a total four IDF incursions underway.

Shejaiha was particularly badly affected with thousands of people reportedly fleeing their homes this morning, as heavy bombardment from Israeli tanks and artillery continued. The situation remains tense across all of the five areas of Gaza. Medical authorities at Shifa hospital reported that 300 injured people had already been received at the hospital and confirmed 40 fatalities. Those numbers could increase significantly as it is understood that there may be many more still unable to evacuate from Shejaiha.

Hundreds of civilians, including Palestine refugees, are also crowding in the compound of Shifa Hospital – the main medical facility in the Gaza Strip. The situation could not be more dire for the collapsed health sector in Gaza, with this latest conflict only adding to the burden on overwhelmed doctors and medical staff.

This is the third war in five and a half years endured by the people of Gaza. As with previous conflicts, there is nowhere for women, men and children to escape to. The Strip is densely populated and the seven-year Israeli-imposed blockade means that people’s movement to and from Gaza remains virtually banned. Since July 2013, the operation of Rafah crossing, at the southern end of the Strip, has also been significantly reduced by the Egyptian authorities, citing security concerns.

The escalation of violence is now more acutely affecting UNRWA’s regular operations. All UNRWA installations in Magazi and Bureij refugee camps in the Middle Area are closed because of ongoing security concerns. Two health clinics remain closed and another three had operations disrupted after sustaining damage. A total of 18 UNRWA installations were closed during the reporting period.

At the moment, due to ongoing violence, it continues to be extremely difficult to deliver supplies to Beit Hanoun in the very north of the Gaza Strip, where more than 2,500 people are taking shelter in an UNRWA school. Some efforts have been made to undertake local delivery of goods within this area but access to it has so far been denied by the Israeli authorities.

All UNRWA schools in Gaza City that are in areas considered secure are now being utilized as designated emergency shelters. Whilst some funding has been secured to continue providing vital supplies such as food, water, mattresses and hygiene kits, urgent needs persist.

According to the Protection Cluster, there were at least 54 people killed over night, ten of whom were children – seven boys and three girls. The total death toll since 8 July has reached 368 people, with the Palestinian Ministry of Public Health reporting about 2,295 injured. At least 80 children are amongst the total dead. This number is expected to rise, perhaps considerably, during the course of the day.

UNRWA RESPONSE

  • UNRWA is now providing shelter to more than 63,000 beneficiaries in all of the five areas of the Gaza Strip. There are currently 55 UNRWA schools operating as designated emergency shelters, with more expected to open throughout the day. The priority continues to be the provision of food, water, sleeping and hygiene items.
  • Over the past 24 hours, food and water rations were distributed to shelters. 7,776 50-piece bread packets and 25,662 tins of tuna provided by WFP, were delivered and distributed to shelters.
  • Regular UNRWA operations are affected but continue as security permits. Fifteen of UNRWA’s 21 health clinics remain operational, and regular UNRWA services are available. 9,153 people visited UNRWA health clinics yesterday, including more than 620 children who had regular check-ups and/or immunizations. There were 359 visits to the dentist at UNRWA health clinics and 12 people had appointments with psychosocial counselors.
  •  Yesterday, 21 sanitation staff worked at Designated Emergency Shelters in Jabalia.
  •  A total of 9,820 cubic metres of water was made available to refugee families through water wells in 8 camps.

SUMMARY OF MAJOR INCIDENTS

Reportedly, there were 113 missiles, 961 navy shells and 1,045 tank shells fired into the Gaza Strip. It is reported that 44 houses were bombarded. 84 rockets and 35 mortar shells were fired towards Israel.

UNRWA INSTALLATIONS

A total of 72 UNRWA installations have been damaged since 1 June, 2014.

In the past 24 hours, three UNRWA installations were damaged – one school in Rafah, a school in the north of Gaza and a storehouse holding NFIs, also in the north. It is understood that none of the NFIs were lost, but the store was closed after being damaged by airstrikes.

FUNDING NEEDS

UNRWA has launched an emergency flash appeal for US$ 60 million to respond to the urgent and pressing humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, including the thousands who have already fled their homes to seek safety in UNRWA facilities. New funding will enable UNRWA to respond to the immediate shelter, food, health and psychosocial needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs), while replenishing emergency supplies and preparing for vital interventions necessary after a cessation of military activities. The emergency response phase is expected to last for one month, and the early recovery a further three to six months. More information on the appeal can be found here.

CROSSINGS

  • Rafah crossing was open for foreign passport holders.
  • Erez was closed.
  • Kerem Shalom crossing was closed.

Gaza updates, 16 July 2014

Posted: July 16, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, Israel, UNRWA

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Updates from the conflict in Gaza for 16 July 2014, from UNRWA and UN OCHA:

 

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The full UN OCHA sitution report can be found here.

At Haaretz (paywall) Mira Sucharov highlights mutual threat perception in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of particular note: some 60% of Palestinians fear that Israel seeks to expel them from the West Bank and Gaza, a view undoubtedly born of the shared experience of forced displacement that has been such a central part of Palestinian national experience.
What is really fueling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
‘The Most Important Video About Israel Ever Made’ got it all wrong: It’s too easy to blame the Mideast’s problems on blind hatred and genocidal tendencies.

By Mira Sucharov | Jul. 16, 2014 | 11:52 AM

With the murder of the four teens, followed by Hamas rockets and Israeli missile strikes, regional players and interested parties outside Israel and Palestine are understandably looking to make sense of the tragic mess, both in its short-term and long-term variants. And in the age of social media, sound bites rule. One 5-minute video that has been circulating on Facebook purports to explain the overall Arab-Israeli conflict simply and concretely. Those who’ve posted it praise its concrete and “unemotional” tone. It is indeed simple and unsensational. The problem is, the explanation put forth is anything but supported by the evidence.

Called The Middle East Problem (and tagged by the Israel Video Network as “The Most Important Video About Israel Ever Made,”), the video has Dennis Prager asserting that the Middle East Conflict is the “easiest in the world to explain.” His explanation? “One side wants the other side dead.” Israel wants to live in peace, he continues, and even recognizes the right of the Palestinians to a state. (Ignore pesky detail revealing Bibi’s recent revelationthat he has no intention of allowing this to happen.) But “most Palestinians, and many other Muslims and Arabs,” Prager stresses, “do not recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist.”

The assumption that “they want us dead” (also known as the “they hate us” theory) is a key cause of what Israeli psychologists have described as a siege mentality characterizing Israeli society. Suggesting that “they hate us” also serves to trivialize the actual concerns and claims of the other side. Claiming that “they” do not recognize the right of Israel to exist ignores the mutual letters of recognition exchanged between Israel and the PLO in 1993. Most importantly, such “they hate us” statements are important motivators for keeping powerful actors stuck to the status quo

But let’s hypothesize for a moment that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is due to Palestinian hatred. How might we test this hypothesis? Right now the best data we have is polling, and the closest polling question I have seen in the last year or so is one that asked about mutual attitudes. What emerged is something quite different from mutual hatred and genocidal tendencies. Instead, what is really going on is a story of mutual fear, but especially on the part of Palestinians towards Israel.

Consider this: From a December 2013 survey conducted jointly by the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, most Palestinians (60%) believe that Israel’s goals are to conquer all of the land between the river of the sea and expel the Arabs. An additional 24% believe Israel wants to annex the West Bank without granting the Palestinians political rights. A minority on each side (37% of Israelis, and only 15% of Palestinians) considers the other’s territorial aims to be limited in scope

It is easy to say that the other’s acts of protest — sometimes violent, other times in the form of boycott and divestment or general civil disobedience — stem from hatred. It is much harder to sit and listen to the fears of the other and to examine one’s own actions to see how they shape those perceptions

In sum, when watching videos that may be “unemotional” in tone, but are certainly inflammatory in content, we need to think more soberly about what is hatred, and what might actually, instead, be fear. And we all know from everyday life that the solution to fear is not heel-digging and head-in-the-sand burying, but rather confidence-building and reassurance — in the form of meaningful negotiation leading to a dignified solution for all.

 

Palestinians seeking refuge at an UNRWA school in Gaza.

Palestinians seeking refuge at an UNRWA school in Gaza.

The text (as delivered) of UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl’s press statement on the situation in the Gaza Strip, 14 July 2014 (via UNRWA).

Thank you for joining us at this press briefing.

As we stand here, the Gaza Strip is once again experiencing very dramatic circumstances, circumstances we had hoped it would never have to experience again. The population of Gaza, including Palestine refugees, is once again enduring great suffering and many have lost their lives or sustained serious injuries.

As Commissioner-General of UNRWA, I have come to Gaza, together with Humanitarian Coordinator James Rawley, to directly observe the situation resulting from the widening military operations. I also came to discuss with our Director of Operations in Gaza, Mr. Robert Turner, the level of UNRWA’s preparedness and emergency response capabilities.

I am deeply alarmed and affected by the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and the devastating human and physical toll it is taking on civilians, including Palestine refugees. The casualty numbers are now said to lie at 174 killed and over 1,100 wounded. All indications are -and I find this particulary dramatic – that women and children make up a sizable number of victims of the current strikes. I am equally disturbed that people with disabilities are among the victims, reportedly as a result of Israeli strikes.

What began with the extensive use of air power could expand into a ground operation with an actual Israeli military incursion into Gaza, leading to a fear that more and more civilians will be affected. Meanwhile, rockets continue to be fired at various Israeli cities from within the Strip.

We have all seen the images of smoke rising from different areas of Gaza. We have seen the destruction wrought by the bombing campaign. As I map the destruction for myself today, let me draw your attention to two things:

First, never will even the most impressive television footage properly capture the depth of fear and despair felt in the homes and hearts of Gazans who are yet again facing death, devastation and displacement. Thousands of parents today have no more answers to give to their young children when they are asked why their houses are shaking or breaking under the weight and relentless force of the bombardments.

Second, we must be careful about the endless enumeration of casualty numbers. The dead and injured in Gaza are not anonymous. Behind the figures lie multiple individual destinies now torn apart.  Too often in their lives have Gazan civilians been denied their dignity. Anonymity in death or injury is the ultimate denial. It is also too comfortable for the world and the parties engaged in the hostilities. Palestinians are not statistics and we must never allow them to be treated as such. They are human beings like others in the world, with their identity and the same hopes and expectations for an improved future for their children.

In this context, I urgently call on the Israeli Security Forces to put an end to attacks against, or endangering, civilians and civilian infrastructure which are contrary to international humanitarian law. In Gaza, risks are compounded by the very high population density. Maximum restraint must be exercised and measures of distinction, proportionality and precaution must be respected to avoid further casualties and overall destabilization. Clearly at this stage not enough is being done in that regard. Too many lives are being lost and this must end. If calm is not quickly restored, the casualty levels will become even more intolerable and unacceptable. I echo the United Nations’ call for all parties to respect international law, and protect the civilian population. This includes an end to rocket fire from Gaza aimed at Israel, which the United Nations has described as indiscriminate.

During my visit, I intend to meet with UNRWA teams. As you know, we recently declared an emergency for our operations in all five areas of Gaza. In recent days, we have dealt with several emergencies. We have 12,500 national and international staff in Gaza and I want here to pay tribute to their formidable courage and resolve. In the past hours, as a direct result of military operations, approximately 17,000 refugees have sought refuge in our 20 schools, some being displaced to the very same classrooms for the third time in five years. Let me recall that, during the Gaza fighting in 2008/9 over 50,000 people took sanctuary in UNRWA installations. People who came to UNRWA installations because they thought they could find safety and security were killed. In one incident, the UNRWA compound in Gaza where hundreds had taken refuge took a direct hit and the main UNRWA warehouse was burnt to the ground.

Worryingly, already 47 of our premises, whether schools, clinics or warehouses have been damaged by the air raids and other fire. The inviolability of our installations and premises must be respected, in accordance with international law.

Together with our partners in the UN system, with other local and international agencies present in Gaza, we are committed to keep this engagement strong and effective for as long as it takes. I call here on the donor and state community to ensure that these activities are properly funded.

During my first visit to Gaza as Commissioner-General three months ago, it became evident to me that the situation of the population of Gaza and of Palestine Refugees here has become completely unsustainable. Israel’s illegal blockade has deepened poverty levels and youth or female unemployment levels (at 65% and over 80% respectively). Gaza’s aquifer will have been entirely contaminated in the next three to four years making the strip essentially unlivable. But today, these indicators pale in comparison to the intensity of the bombardments and the fears for security and survival.

Two things appear most evident when we see the destruction currently taking place around us. One, is that the conditions for Gaza’s population will only deteriorate further as a result.

Two, while standing here in Gaza today and while fully recognising that UNRWA’s specific role is a humanitarian one, I put the question to all actors concerned: How long will it take before it is recognised that only a political solution will allow to move beyond the endless cycles of violence and destruction that repeatedly affect the population of Gaza and beyond. And how much longer before this is seriously, meaningfully and comprehensively addressed? An answer to those questions is urgent: the lives of tens of thousands are today at grave and imminent risk.

I thank you.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency’s General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 69 million.

For more information, please contact:

Christopher Gunness
UNRWA Spokesperson
Mobile:
+972 (0)54 240 2659
Office:
+972 (0)2 589 0267
Sami Mshasha
UNRWA Arabic Spokesperson
Mobile:
+972 (0)54 216 8295
Office:
+972 (0)2 589 0724