Mon 27-May-2024

Monitor: Israeli army deliberately attacks UNRWA schools housing displaced people

Sunday 24-December-2023

GENEVA, (PIC)

Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights has said that Israeli occupation forces (IOF) continue to violate schools that have been converted into shelters for tens of thousands of displaced people, committing grave violations including extrajudicial killings, arrests, harassment, and intimidation of civilians.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the Euro-Med Monitor documented the Israeli forces’ raid on Al-Rafi’i School in Jabalia, which houses thousands of displaced people, and the arrest of males aged 15 and above after forcing them to strip down and remain in their underwear. The soldiers then took them to an unknown location while forcefully displacing women amidst gunfire.

The Monitor highlighted that the Israeli forces have targeted shelter centers, most of which are established in schools managed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), which bear the United Nations logo. These centers have been targeted since the early days of the extensive Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, which began on October 7th.

It also noted that the Israeli military attacks have taken multiple forms. Initially, shelter centers were repeatedly targeted by aerial bombardment, resulting in the death of hundreds of civilians and the injury of hundreds more. This occurred on several occasions at Al-Fakhoura School and dozens of other schools in Gaza and its northern areas, as well as in Khan Yunis in the southern part of the Strip and Al-Bureij in the central area.

Preliminary information gathered by the Euro-Med Monitor indicates that these attacks were unjustified and targeted innocent civilians who had sought refuge in shelter centers after receiving Israeli evacuation orders from their homes and residential areas.

The Monitor reported that the second phase of targeting schools and shelters accompanied the ground invasion. It revealed that dozens of testimonies were received regarding the Israeli army’s storming of those schools after destroying their walls and gates with tanks, amidst intense gunfire and tank shells.

It also highlighted that the IOF carried out field executions in several of those schools, as was the case in the “Shadia Abu Ghazala” school in Jabalia, where, after the IOF withdrew from the area on December 13th, nine bodies, including women and children, were found.

In his testimony about what happened, the elderly man, Youssef Khalil, told the Euro-Med Monitor that after the Israeli forces stormed the school, two soldiers opened fire directly at his family members while they were in one of the classrooms.

Khalil pointed out that after his family members were killed, he was arrested by the Israeli forces along with others for several days, during which he was subjected to beatings and torture before being released later on.

After the Israeli forces withdrew from the vicinity of the school where they were stationed for a week, Khalil returned to the school only to find the bodies of his family members in an advanced state of decomposition. Among the victims were a woman, her husband, and several of their children.

Video clips monitored by the Monitor from the school, which were filmed between December 13th and 15th, showed classrooms that had been damaged, at least two bodies on the ground, and a number of bodies, including a woman, as well as a bed soaked in blood, bullet holes, and blood stains on the ground.

Euro-Med Monitor underlined that alongside the killings in shelter schools, Israeli forces are working on detaining males aged 14 and above, forcing them to strip and transferring them to other sites where inhumane torture and abuse take place. As for women, they are subjected to investigation and interrogation, with some being arrested and others released.

Eyewitnesses informed the Euro-Med Monitor team that Israeli forces have looted the personal belongings and money of the displaced, including confiscating golden jewelry from women in several instances.

The Monitor mentioned that the third stage of violations against these schools and shelter centers focuses on transforming them into military barracks as temporary headquarters for the occupying forces and centers for investigating and tormenting civilians.

It also indicated that the fourth stage of targeting shelter centers involves their destruction, either by planting explosives and completely demolishing them as happened when a school was destroyed on December 12th near the Indonesian Hospital in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza.

The Monitor emphasized that while these schools are under the supervision of the United Nations and many of them have been built with European funding from taxpayers in European Union countries, they are supposed to enjoy special protection during the peak of military attacks. However, in reality, Israeli forces continue to target and celebrate their destruction in many cases that have appeared in recorded videos.

It pointed out that the deliberate targeting of shelter centers and the commission of killings, destruction, and torment are a natural result of the policy of impunity and the international silence that encourages Israel to commit more war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The ongoing operations of killing, physical elimination, and systematic destruction of buildings and facilities have no explanation or justification other than being part of deliberate acts of revenge, with civilians who are supposed to be protected under international humanitarian law paying the price.

The Monitor called for an urgent international investigation into the horrific crimes committed by the Israeli army in its incursions into the Gaza Strip, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, and widespread torture of men and women, as well as the unnecessary destruction of schools.

It affirmed that according to international humanitarian law, Israel is obliged to take all possible precautions to avoid harming civilians and ensure their ability to provide safe conditions for their safety and shelter. It also emphasized that civilians choosing to remain in evacuation areas do not lose their protection and it is prohibited to target them under any pretext.

Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights stressed that an immediate ceasefire is the essential demand that everyone should work towards achieving, in order to save what can be saved from the genocide targeting 2.3 million people in the Gaza Strip. This should be followed by activating all international mechanisms to investigate the committed crimes, leading to accountability, justice, and fairness, it concluded.

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