Attack on UNRWA school in Rafah

Posted: August 3, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, Hamas, Israel, UNRWA

un-school-blood

A third UNRWA school and designated emergency shelter in Gaza, this time in the southern city of Rafah, was attacked today.

According to an initial report in the Guardian:

At least seven people have been killed and dozens more wounded after a projectile struck a street outside a school in the city of Rafah, in the south of Gaza.

The school was sheltering more than 3,000 people displaced by fighting in the area. It has been the scene of heavy bombardment by the Israeli military and fierce clashes following the suspected capture by Hamas fighters of an Israeli soldier, later declared killed in action.

At the time of the strike – about 10.50am – dozens of children and adults were clustered around its gates buying biscuits and sweets from stalls set up by locals.

The missile struck the ground eight to 10 metres from the open gates. Witnesses at the scene less than an hour after the explosion claimed it had been fired from one of the many unmanned Israeli drones in the air above Rafah.

United Nations officials in Gaza described a “shelling incident” or an air strike.

It was impossible to determine the exact provenance of the projectile, but it was the third time in 10 days that a UN school had been hit. Earlier this week, Israeli tank shells lstruck a school in the northern town of Jabaliya, killing 16 in an attack denounced by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, as “reprehensible”.

In all, seven UN schools have been attacked during the conflict.

Israeli spokesmen have previously blamed poorly aimed or malfunctioning Hamas mortar fire or rockets for several such incidents.

UN officials now seem to be suggesting that Israel was responsible:

The Washington Post puts the death toll at 10:

 An apparent Israeli airstrike landed outside a United Nations school in southern Gaza on Sunday, killing at least 10 people and injuring more than 30, as Israel said it had withdrawn most of its ground forces but would continue its military operation in the coastal strip.

A spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency said the blast occurred outside the school in the southern border city of Rafah while about 3,000 Palestinians, who had fled their homes and were seeking refuge, were waiting in line for food and other supplies.

“It seems that it was an Israeli airstrike, according to our staff on the ground,” said Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the agency, which is assisting more than 200,000 Palestinian evacuees at 90 schools and other facilities in Gaza. “They shelled near the gate of the school. Multiple people were killed inside and outside the school.” A U.N. employee was among those killed, he said.

Capt. Eytan Buchman, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, said the military was investigating the reports and could not comment further on the incident.

Rafah

The UN Secretary-General has strongly condemned the attack, without attributing blame:

 

(Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described a deadly attack on a U.N. school on Sunday as a “moral outrage and a criminal act” and called for those responsible for the “gross violation of international humanitarian law” to be held accountable.

 

In a statement, Ban strongly condemned the shelling of the school in Rafah in southern Gaza that killed at least 10 civilians. The school was sheltering 3,000 displaced persons and Ban said the “Israel Defense Forces have been repeatedly informed of the location of these sites.”

The total number of Gazans current sheltering in UNRWA facilities has reached over a quarter million. Ten UNRWA staff have been killed in the fighting.

UPDATE

It would now appear the IDF conducted an attack against suspected PIJ members as they drove past the crowded school:

If this were a missile strike from a drone, the operator would have certainly known at the time how crowded the immediate areas was with civilians, as well as the likely identity of this location as a school (which is quite distinctive from the air).

The US has issued an unusually strong condemnation of the attack:

BuIbE46IUAEGe1G.png-large

UNRWA has also issued a formal statement:

STATEMENT BY UNRWA COMMISSIONER GENERAL, PIERRE KRÄHENBÜHL, AND DIRECTOR OF UNRWA OPERATIONS IN GAZA, ROBERT TURNER

Gaza

This morning at about 1045 Gaza time there was an Israeli missile strike adjacent to the main gate of the UNRWA Boys’ Prep School ‘A’ in the town of Rafah, in southern Gaza. We believe as many as nine people were killed, including an UNRWA guard, and 27 were injured. Almost three thousand people had registered at the school, one of ninety which we are using as temporary shelters for some 260,000 displaced people across the Gaza strip.

On six occasions since the start of the conflict, UNRWA schools housing the displaced were subject to direct shelling.  This is the first time a strike in the immediate vicinity of one of our premises, of which there have been several, caused fatalities. As in previous incidents, UNRWA had notified the Israeli Army of the location of the school to make sure that it was protected from the violence that has so dramatically affected the entire population of Gaza, displacing a total of at least 475,000 people. For this particular installation 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 incident.

The incident in Rafah is a further tragic and unacceptable reminder that there is nowhere safe in Gaza for people to take refuge. No one feels secure and given that Gaza is enclosed by a barrier, there is also nowhere safe for them to run. While UNRWA will continue to provide all possible aid and protection to the displaced, we remind the parties that they must respect the sanctity of civilian life, the inviolability of UN property and that they must abide their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and humanitarian workers.

We are painfully aware of how dangerous working in Gaza is. In the last hours before the Rafah incident, confirmation had come through that another UNRWA worker, our eleventh, was killed. Our hearts goes out to their families and loved ones at this terrible time.

We vigorously condemn today’s Israeli strike and find it incomprehensible that such violence has happened again, only four days since we carried out dead and wounded civilians who had sought refuge in a UN installation. We again call on the Israeli authorities immediately to investigate this appalling incident in Rafah. We made two similar calls after the shelling incidents at our schools housing thousands of displaced people in Beit Hanoun and Jabalia, which caused multiple deaths and injuries. We fully expect the result of these three investigations to be transmitted to us.

International law requires that principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in attack must be taken into account by parties to a conflict to reduce civilian casualties; the frequency of these incidents increases the urgency to find out why this continues to happen and hold accountable those responsible. We echo the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate cease-fire. This is another urgent reminder that the people of Gaza need an end to this violence and a negotiated settlement that addresses so the underlying causes; instead of this being the third war, it must be the last.

Fred Abrahams at Human Rights Watch has suggested the weapon used was a Spike anti-tank missile.

That is possible–the blast is certainly consistent with a HEAT warhead–but it is probably too early to tell. Most versions of the Spike would allow an operator to see the target zone and guide the missile.

Comments
  1. […] Attack on UNRWA school in Rafah (3 August 2014) […]

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