“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 calls 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.”