“Let me be clear: protecting civilians in times of conflict is not an aspiration or an ideal; it is an obligation and a commitment to our shared humanity,” UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini said in a statement.
Relentless air strikes and bombardments, coupled with evacuation orders from Israel, have displaced nearly one million people in Gaza, he said. Many civilians have been killed and injured.
Some 500,000 people are currently sheltering in UNRWA facilities, and those in the southern cities of Khan Younis and Rafah have become overcrowded. Many have taken refuge in UNRWA buildings that were not set up to be shelters where the living conditions are just untenable.
Mr. Lazzarini said that since the war began on 7 October, UNRWA has been regularly providing the coordinates of all its facilities across the Gaza Strip to all relevant parties. Nevertheless, at least 35 have been impacted so far, and some were directly hit.
17 colleagues killed
“We are devastated to receive continuous reports of civilians killed in Gaza, including at UNRWA,” he said.
“To date, 17 of our colleagues have been confirmed killed in this vicious war. Very sadly, the actual numbers are likely to be higher. Some of our staff were killed with their families while sleeping in their beds at home.”
Duty to protect
Mr. Lazzarini recalled “the non-negotiable legal obligations” of warring parties to protect civilians at all times, and to refrain from attacks on civilian facilities “including schools, hospitals, places of worship, and civilians’ homes, including those of UNRWA staff.”
He echoed the UN Secretary-General’s call on all parties to reach an urgent humanitarian ceasefire, saying “this is the only way out of this mayhem; any other way will plunge Gaza – and the world – deeper into fathomless, dark depths.”
West Bank violence
UNRWA later issued a statement on an Israeli Security Forces’ operation at the Nur Shams refugee camp in the West Bank, which lasted 28 hours.
It said at least 13 Palestinians were reported killed, including five children. Reports indicated that an Israeli soldier also was killed and scores of others were injured.
Adam Bouloukos, UNRWA West Bank Director, said the agency was forced to suspend services at the camp, including schools, health and solid waste collection.
Initial assessments indicated that nearly 50 homes were damaged, some severely, and roads, electricity, water, internet and sewage networks were impacted. He said UNRWA received reports that several homes were used for military purposes, exposing the residents to significant danger.
“These latest events are emblematic of the continued escalation risking the lives of Palestine refugees in camps across the West Bank. This recent operation is the largest since Jenin in July this year,” said Mr. Bouloukos.
He reported that over 270 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank alone this year. Twenty per cent were children and over half were refugees.
This represents the highest number of fatalities in a single year since UNRWA routinely started collecting this data in 2012, he added.
He warned that these latest events were likely to further inflame already heightened tensions given the conflict in Gaza, which began on 7 October, with at least 82 Palestinians killed in the West Bank alone since then.