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UN protests Israeli attack that damaged school in Gaza; Annan alarmed by violence

UN protests Israeli attack that damaged school in Gaza; Annan alarmed by violence

An UNRWA school damaged by bombing
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the head of the UN agency assisting Palestinian refugees voiced their grave concern today at the ongoing violence in the Middle East after last night's Israeli bombardment of Gaza City resulted in damage to a UN-run school.

The Secretary-General “is greatly alarmed by the escalating violence in the past few days,” Marie Okabe, a spokesperson for Mr. Annan, told reporters in New York. “This spiral of violence, retaliation and counter-violence will not lead to peace. He, again, urges both sides to exercise maximum restraint,” she said responding to a question about the Secretary-General’s views on the latest developments.

For his part, Peter Hansen, head of the UN agency that assists Palestinian refugees, said in a statement today that he had sent a strong letter of protest to the Government of Israel regarding the latest bombing. “I hope that the UN will be given assurances that no more attacks will occur near UN installations," he said.

Mr. Hansen added that he was “gravely concerned” not only about the safety and security of UN staff but also for the safety of the thousands of school children who attend schools in the occupied Palestinian territory run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The Gaza Elementary B Coeducational School, which is located next to the police headquarters in Gaza, sustained considerable damage after one F-16 missile exploded on one of the police buildings beside the school, UNRWA said.

Large blocks of concrete, pieces from the missile and other debris were scattered over an open play area and in the central courtyard. A second missile missed the police compound, hit the roof of one classroom and landed in the school courtyard.

"Thankfully, the missile did not explode,” Mr. Hansen said during a visit to the school this morning. “If this bombardment had happened during school hours we would be facing a terrible tragedy today with many children and teachers wounded or dead."

Four classrooms were badly damaged and debris also fell next door into the play area of UNRWA's An-Noor Rehabilitation Centre for the Visually Impaired. Both the school and the rehabilitation centre have been damaged during previous bombardments on the police headquarters.