The head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees called on Israel and Hamas militants to respect the inviolability of U.N. premises Thursday, a day after Israeli fire killed 19 civilians sheltering at a U.N. school in the Gaza Strip.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl spoke to the U.N. Security Council from Gaza. He strongly condemned the shelling of the school in Jabalya, which housed 3,300 displaced Palestinians who he said had been warned by the Israeli military to flee their homes.
"Speaking to many inhabitants of Gaza yesterday and today I have heard the same messages time and time again. 'If we are not safe in an UNRWA school, we are not safe anywhere in Gaza,' they say. They add, 'the world has failed us, has failed to protect,'" said Krähenbühl.
Under international law, U.N. operations, personnel and premises are inviolable.
Krähenbühl said UNRWA is sheltering more than 220,000 displaced Palestinians at 85 U.N. schools, which are not equipped to handle such large groups for extended periods of time. He said families are crowded - 80 persons to each classroom - and the threat of disease is looming.
He expressed concern about reports that the Israel Defense Forces have told residents of the Zaytun area of Gaza City and the southern town of Khan Yunis to evacuate their homes. He said UNRWA does not have the capacity to absorb and provide for more displaced persons.
"Should further large-scale displacement indeed occur, the occupying power, according to international humanitarian law, will have to assume direct responsibility to assist these people," he said.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told the council that until a long-term cease-fire is in place, reliable, daily humanitarian pauses are necessary so aid can be distributed, the injured rescued and the dead recovered.
Israel's U.N. ambassador, Ron Prosor, said Israel is still investigating what happened at the Jabalya school and added that no Israeli soldier intentionally targets civilians. He disputed U.N. figures that 80 percent of the Palestinian casualties in Gaza have been civilians, saying Israel believes nearly half have been militants.
Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour called for justice and accountability for the more than 1,300 dead and urged a lifting of the economic blockade on Gaza.
Mansour said, "Because when you put 1.8 million Palestinian civilians in this huge prison, denying them food because they cannot fish in the sea, denying them electricity, denying them safe places, denying them adequate medical facilities, denying them clean water - what are you doing? Isn't that genocide?"
He said despite the bloodshed, the Palestinian people still want a political resolution to the conflict and a two-state solution so they can live in freedom and dignity.