Attack on UNRWA school in Jabaliya

Posted: July 30, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, Israel, UNRWA


This report will be updated as additional information becomes available.

Another UN school has been shelled in Gaza, this time in Jebalya refugee camp. According to the BBC’s Jon Donnison:

Additional details from an early Reuters report:

Israeli tank shells and air strikes on houses and a school in Jebalya in northern Gaza killed at least 43 people and wounded many others.

A Palestinian health official says 13 people were killed after tank shells hit a UN school in Gaza where hundreds of Palestinians had taken refuge from Israeli attacks.

Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said another 90 Palestinians were wounded in the shelling early Wednesday.

Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for a UN aid agency, says tank shells hit the Abu Hussein UN school in the Jabaliya refugee camp around 4:30 a.m.

An AP reporter who arrived later at the school saw what appeared to be tank shells in a bathroom and two classrooms. In another classroom, the strike had blown out the front wall.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said she was checking for details.

Further details from al-Jazeera:

Israeli shelling on a UN school being used as a shelter in the Gaza Strip has killed 23 people and injured scores of others, Palestinian medics says.

Wednesday’s shelling hit the school in Jabaliya refugee camp, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said, on the 23rd day of Israel’s military campaign against the Palestinian coastal enclave.

An official for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, told the AFP news agency that the strike hit a bathroom and two classrooms inside the girls’ school.

Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Gaza’s Kamal Adwan hospital, where scores of injured were taken, said there were more than 90 injured.

“Looking around me I can see some with have what appears to be shrapnel wounds and some with far more serious wounds,” he said.

He said people there did not know why Israel had hit the shelter, adding that the attack caused panic among people living in different UN-run shelters.

“As we were driving to the hospital, we saw families with many children leaving other UN schools. They feel insecure. There seem to be no safe shelter for them, not even in UN schools,” our correspondent said.

Almost 15,000 Palestinians were seeking shelter in 83 UNRWA schools, according to UN refugee agency.

The army had begun heavy tank shelling in the area a couple of hours prior to the incident.

The shelling brought Wednesday morning’s death toll to at least 35, in a conflict that has killed more than 1,263 Palestinians, according to Qudra’s figures.



The UNRWA Commission General has now issued a strongly-worded statement condemning the attack:

30 July 2014



Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced.

We have visited the site and gathered evidence. We have analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge. We believe there were at least three impacts. It is too early to give a confirmed official death toll. But we know that there were multiple civilian deaths and injuries   including of women and children and the UNRWA guard who was trying to protect the site.  These are 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 seventeen times,  to ensure its protection; the last being at  ten to nine last night, just hours before the fatal shelling.

I condemn in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces.

This is the sixth time that one of our schools has been struck. Our staff, the very people leading the humanitarian response are being killed.  Our shelters are overflowing. Tens of thousands may soon be stranded in the streets of Gaza, without food, water and shelter if attacks on these areas continue.

We have moved beyond the realm of humanitarian action alone. We are in the realm of accountability. I call on the international community to take deliberate international political action to put an immediate end to the continuing carnage.

 In the meantime, the IDF has asserted Palestinian militants operating near (although not at) the school. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The Israeli military, in an initial response to the killing of at least 19 Palestinians in a United Nations-run school in Gaza on Wednesday, said militants near the facility had fired mortar bombs and Israeli forces had shot back.

“Earlier this morning, militants fired mortar shells at (Israeli) soldiers from the vicinity of the UNRWA school in Jabaliya (refugee camp). In response, soldiers fired towards the origins of fire, and we’re still reviewing the incident,” a military spokeswoman said.

It might be noted, of course, that a very large proportion of urban Gaza is “in the vicinity” of a school, hospital, or clinic.

In an interview with al-Jazeera, UNRWA Spokesperson Chris Gunness breaks down in tears as he discusses the impact of the conflict on Palestinian children.

In the meantime, UNRWA has pointed to Israeli 155mm artillery as the culprit:

Hamas has no artillery of this sort whatsoever.


UPDATE July 31

The following video comments by the UNRWA Commissioner General on the school shelling, and the general condition of Palestinians in Gaza, has now been uploaded to YouTube:

Also, the White House has issued a statement condemning the attack. It is notable both for the strong language used, and the clear identification of Israel as the culprit. As the BBC reports (emphasis added):

“There is a difference in approach between what Hamas is perpetrating on the Israeli people and what Israel is doing to defend their country,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

“But the shelling of a UN facility that is housing innocent civilians who are fleeing violence is totally unacceptable and totally indefensible, and it is clear that we need our allies in Israel to do more to live up to high standards that they have set for themselves.”

He was referring to an incident on Wednesday, when at least 16 people were killed when shellfire hit a UN-run school designated as a civilian shelter in the Jabaliya district of Gaza City.

Mr Earnest said there was little doubt that the shells were fired by the Israeli military.


UPDATE August 4

The New York Times has an excellent analysis of the attack, highlighting that the school was indeed hit by Israeli artillery—an inherently indiscriminate weapon when used in an urban area:

JABALIYA, Gaza Strip — An examination of an Israeli barrage that put a line of at least 10 shells through a United Nations school sheltering displaced Palestinians here last week suggests that Israeli troops paid little heed to warnings to safeguard such sites and may have unleashed weapons inappropriate for urban areas despite rising alarm over civilian deaths.

Inspection of the damage, a preliminary United Nations review that collected 30 pieces of shrapnel, and interviews with two dozen witnesses indicate that the predawn strikes on Wednesday, July 30, that killed 21 people at the school, in the crowded Jabaliya refugee camp, were likely to have come from heavy artillery not designed for precision use.

  1. […] Attack on UNRWA school in Jabaliya […]

  2. […] Attack on UNRWA school in Jabaliya (30 July 2014) […]

  3. […] and injuries occurring at and damage done to the UNRWA Jabalia Elementary Girls “A” and “B” School on 30 July 2014 were the result of IDF artillery […]

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