Children stand near the destruction of a facility

Children stand near the destruction of a facility run by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

(Photo: UNRWA)

UNRWA Says Its Facilities Have Been Attacked by Israel 453 Times Since October

"The blatant disregard of international humanitarian law cannot become the new normal," said the head of the U.N. agency.

The United Nations agency tasked with providing aid and services to Palestinians in Gaza said Wednesday that two-thirds of the schools it administers in the enclave have now been attacked by Israeli forces, and nearly 200 of its staff members have been killed, as part of a broader and coordinated assault over the last nine months.

The news came in the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East's (UNRWA) latest situation report on Israel's military operations in Gaza and the West Bank, and was reported the same day that Israel attacked the agency's Gaza City headquarters.

UNRWA said a total of 453 attacks have been waged by Israel on its facilities "and the people inside them" since October, while at least 524 people have been killed in attacks on schools run by the agency.

"U.N. structures, schools, and shelters are not a target," said UNRWA in a social media post.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed its latest attack on UNRWA's headquarters was aimed at defeating Hamas and Islamic Jihad members who were using the building for military operations.

Earlier this year, Israeli officials claimed without evidence that a dozen of UNRWA's 13,000 staff members in Gaza had contributed to a Hamas-led attack on southern Israel last October 7. The allegation pushed countries including the United States, Germany, and Canada to suspend financial support for the donor-funded agency, which is the biggest employer in Gaza as well as a provider of education and public services to Palestinians there.

The suspension of funding to UNRWA, which has been lifted all donor countries except the U.S., U.K., and New Zealand, has been named as one cause exacerbating the starvation of Palestinians in Gaza.

Philippe Lazzarini, head of the agency, said Wednesday that four schools, including at least two run by the U.N., have been attacked by Israel in the last four days.

"Since the war began, two-thirds of UNRWA schools in Gaza have been hit, some were bombed out, many severely damaged," said Lazzarini. "Schools have gone from safe places of education and hope for children to overcrowded shelters and often ending up a place of death and misery... The blatant disregard of international humanitarian law cannot become the new normal."

On Monday, several people were injured in an Israeli strike on a UNRWA-run school in Nuseirat. Last Saturday, at least 16 Palestinians were killed and 50 were injured while sheltering in the al-Jawni School in Nuseirat, which was providing housing to 2,000 people when Israeli forces raided the facility.

"We came here running to see the targeted area," an eyewitness named Ayman al-Atouneh told Reuters. "We saw bodies of children, in pieces. This is a playground. There was a trampoline here. There were swing sets and vendors. Civilians were killed. It's a civilian school. These are United Nations schools, for the UNRWA. It is supposed to be safe for people and should not be targeted anytime."

UNRWA said at least 197 of its staffers have been killed since October 7, including three who were working as guards at an aid distribution center in central Gaza on July 5, when a missile struck the site.

"This must stop," said the agency. "Cease-fire now before we lose what's left of our common humanity."

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