There is word that an UNRWA School in Gaza has been hit by Israeli artillery, killing at least 20 people.  Some 3,000 Gazans were sheltering there.  From the New York Times

Mr. Turner of the United Nations said his agency had provided the GPS coordinates of the school to the Israel Defense Forces 17 times, starting July 16 and most recently Tuesday at 8:48 p.m., to ensure it would be spared. Ziad Yousef, who also works for the agency, said the doors were locked at 11 p.m. Tuesday so no one could come or go.

“People who saw that happen are now convinced there are no safe places left,” Mr. Yousef said.

At least four strikes hit in close succession in a straight line across the school compound, indicating artillery fire, according to people who saw the attack; one struck a house behind the school. The drop ceiling of one classroom had collapsed, and the tin roof was peppered with shrapnel holes. The ground was covered with rubble, clothing and pools of blood. Sunlight shone through a hole in the roof of another classroom, also hit by a shell.

At the nearby Kamal Adwan hospital, Saeed Adham stood over the bed of his 15-year-old son, Rizek, whose right leg had been shattered by shrapnel. An X-ray of Rizek’s calf showed bones looking like an archipelago. Mr. Adham said his family was sleeping in a second-floor classroom when a strike shattered the windows, so they ran to a hallway, where a shell hit the roof. As he waited for surgery on his son’s leg, Mr. Adham said his wife and other children remained at Abu Hussein despite the danger. “We have nowhere but the school,” he said.

Mr. Turner’s agency, which in calm times provides education, health care and other services to about 70 percent of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents who are classified as refugees, has found rockets in three of its empty schools during the conflict, most recently on Tuesday. He said officials were not able to gain access to the school on Tuesday because of fighting nearby, but that unlike the other two cases, they did not plan to turn the rockets over to Gaza-based security officials, which had prompted criticism.

UNRWA is a humanitarian agency. Not a political one. Still, the services UNRWA provides for the people of Gaza, principally education, can provide a bulwark against extremism and the ideology promoted by Hamas. For example, both Hamas and UNRWA run summer camps for children in Gaza. UNRWA’s camps (when they have funding)  are pretty standard — arts and crafts, theater and all that.  Hamas’ children’s camps include military training for “pioneers of liberation.”

Needless to say, undermining UNRWA can serve to bolster Hamas. If (the US and UN funded) UNRWA is not providing services or protection to the people of Gaza, Hamas will step in.

The incident today is first and foremost a tragedy for the people involved. But it is also an expression of a terribly trend in this conflict. UNRWA’s neutrality should be inviolable and all sides need to respect that neutrality and, in the case of Israel, take utmost caution to avoid strikes that may damage the schools or injure people sheltering inside. Civilians in Gaza are boxed in with nowhere to escape. UNRWA can provide sanctuary only to the extent that belligerents respect its neutrality. So far, that does not appear to be the case.

 

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