Amid a seven-hour ceasefire announced by Israel in Gaza, the United Nations and aid partners are restocking supplies in schools and other buildings being used as temporary shelters for the nearly 270,000 displaced people throughout the Gaza Strip.
According to its spokesperson, the UN Relief Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) is using the time to resupply food, water and other “essentials of life” in the 90 UN shelters in the area. Israel said that it would allow a seven-hour “humanitarian window” starting at 10am local time.
“These people are deeply traumatized and living in fear because we have seen that even a UN safe shelter, and I hate to use the word 'safe' because it's such a misnomer… even they are being hit,” Chris Gunness told UN Radio.
On Sunday, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) killed at least 10 Palestinians in shelling outside the main gate of the UNRWA Boys' Prep School 'A' in the town of Rafah, in southern Gaza. This is the third time that the immediate vicinity of an UNRWA premise has been struck in the past 10 days.
Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today added her voice to the growing list of condemnations of the attacks, which include Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who denounced it as a “moral outrage.”
“Schools in Gaza have become the symbol of an unfolding human tragedy,” Ms. Bokova said in a statement. “The protection of schools cannot wait.”
She equated protection of schools as essential for the protection of civilians, and a pre-condition to start getting the education system back to normal.
At least seven UNRWA schools serving as shelters have been hit resulting in multiple civilian casualties. In total, at least 137 schools have been reported damaged so far.
In May, UNESCO, along with the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) launched a note to assist the people monitoring, reporting and working to prevent attacks against schools and hospitals. The Guidance Note provides practical information for the UN and its partners on how to implement aspects of Security Council resolution 1998. Adopted in 2011, the resolution gives the UN a mandate to identify and list the armed forces and groups who attack schools or hospitals, or protected persons in relation to schools and hospitals.
“Keeping schools free from any sort of military use is equally vital,” Ms. Bokova said stressing that students and teachers need to feel safe in their schools.
Since the beginning of the conflict on 7 July, at least 1,777 Palestinians have been killed, about 85 per cent of them civilians, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). That figure includes 393 children and 208 women.
In addition, the UN agency reports that more than 8,000 Palestinians have been injured.
Meanwhile, at least 66 Israelis have been killed, including two civilians and 64 soldiers, as well as one foreign national in Gaza.
On Friday, the UN appealed for $369 million to meet urgent needs in Gaza. UNESCO today said that figure includes $11 million for emergency education needs to improve the safety of the education environment, as well as provide teachers and students psychosocial support.
More than 373,000 children are believed to be in need of psychosocial support, according to the latest figures from OCHA.
Also today, UNESCO condemned the deaths of media workers in Gaza and voiced deep concern over the destruction of media facilities.
“As stipulated by international agreements, journalists must be protected including when reporting from the scene,” Ms. Bokova said in the second of her two statements today.
Rami Rayan, a photographer for the Palestine Network for Press and Media news agency, and Al Aqsa TV cameraman Sameh al-Arya were killed in two rounds of shelling on a market in the Shijaiyah neighbourhood of Gaza on 31 July.
Ahed Zaqout, a presenter on Palestine TV, died one day earlier when the Gaza City building where he lived was shelled.
Mohamed Daher, a journalist with the Al-Resalah newspaper, died on 31 July from injuries suffered when his home was hit in a raid eleven days earlier.
Their names will be included this year on UNESCO's dedicated webpage for journalists killed in the line of duty.