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January 08, 2009

Cast Lead: 14 children killed in attack on UNRWA school

[RAMALLAH, 7 January 2009] - According to preliminary information gathered by DCI-Palestine, at around 3:30pm on Tuesday, 6 January 2009, the Israeli artillery attacked the al-Fakhora School in Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza, killing over 42 people, including 14 children.

The school, run by UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), was targeted with three shells, one of which landed on a neighbouring house killing 10 members of the Deep family, including 4 children (among the 14 above). The school itself has stopped functioning since the beginning of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, but was being used as a refuge by 350 civilians, families who thought they would be safer in a UN building than in their homes in northern Gaza, where there had been violent incursions.

The Israeli artillery claimed Hamas militants had been firing mortars from the school but UN staff denied that they were any militants present in the school compound.

Al-Fakhora School is not the first school to have been targeted by the Israeli forces recently. On the same day, the Israeli army had attacked two schools that had been opened by UNRWA to shelter Palestinian families displaced by the fighting. 

In a statement issued after the attack, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: "The locations of all UN facilities have been communicated to the Israeli authorities and are known to the Israeli army. After earlier strikes, the Israeli government was warned that its operations were endangering UN compounds. I am deeply dismayed that despite these repeated efforts, today's tragedies have ensued. These attacks by Israeli military forces which endanger UN facilities acting as places of refuge are totally unacceptable and must not be repeated."

The targeting al-Fakhora School and many other civilian facilities confirms the Israeli army’s flagrant disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians, including children. The willful targeting of civilian areas violates the prohibition of willful killings enshrined in the Fourth Geneva Convention and is a war crime that incurs individual criminal responsibility. In addition, as ambulances are often not able to reach the injured promptly, many injuries result in death. Furthermore, the capacity of the health sector has been significantly crippled by the combined blockade and military offensive on the Gaza Strip, and hospitals are no longer capable of dealing with massive numbers of patients with critical injuries.

As of 7 January 2009, media and NGO reports indicate that around 600 Palestinians may have been killed, and more than 2,900 injured since the beginning of the Israeli military offensive "Cast Lead" 12 days ago. According to DCI-Palestine estimates, as many as 132 children could already have been killed in the Operation.

DCI-Palestine condemns these attacks in the strongest possible terms, and calls for the:

  • Immediate cessation of Israeli military offensive against the Gaza Strip, and the commitment of both parties to the cease-fire. 
  • Immediate provision of humanitarian supplies and medical assistance needed in the Gaza Strip. 
  • Lifting the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip to allow the flow of goods and services to and from the Gaza Strip. 
  • Immediate halt of the partnership agreement between Israel and the European Union, and that any future upgrading of the relationship must include clear benchmarks to Israel's commitment and respect for human rights standards.

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