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​‘It is a human catastrophe in Gaza’ – UNRWA spokesperson

Published time: July 31, 2014 16:14
Palestinians collect the remains of bodies at a United Nation-run school sheltering Palestinians displaced by an Israeli ground offensive, that witnesses said was hit by Israeli shelling, in Jebalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip July 30, 2014 (Reuters / Mohammed Salem)

Potentially hundreds of thousands of people, including women and children, have been made homeless in just over three weeks, UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunnes told RT.

‘Only political actions and influence can make a difference in Gaza,’ Gunnes said.

Women, children, UN staff killed in shelling of school in Gaza

RT: Am I right in thinking you've actually been there, and managed to see the destruction for yourself. Just how bad was it?

Christopher Gunnes: UNRWA has made an inspection at the site. We have analyzed the crater, there has been crater analysis, trajectory analysis, we have examined the debris, we have examined the damage – and are confident enough to make a strong public condemnation of the Israeli army for this serious violation of international law, we are confident enough to make a public statement. It was indeed Israeli artillery which struck the school. We made 17 calls to the Israeli army, we gave them the precise coordinates of the school and we made it clear to them that there were 3300 people at the school, so they knew very well where this place was, and despite that it still got struck, which is why we've moved into the realm of accountability, we need to find out what happened.

RT: These children are the future generations of Palestinians here. What impact is this conflict having on them?

CG: We estimate that there are 75,000 children in Gaza, and I am sure the figure is much higher, and they are deeply traumatized. That is why in our appeal we are asking for $3-4 million to have counseling for these traumatized children. And you know, there are scars you can see, and there are scars you can't see. We saw the wounds, but the psychological scars are going to be far, far deeper.

RT: On Thursday another UN school has been shelled. Is there a way to stop this from happening?

CG: That's a very good question indeed, and you need to put it to the Israeli army.

RT:There have been some reports of stockpiles of Hamas rockets found in UN schools - how could this have happened?

CG: Who knows? In fighting in Gaza in 2007-2009 we took direct hits with white phosphorous and on one occasion our main compound in Gaza City was hit and our largest warehouse servicing all of the Gaza Strip was hit with white phosphorous and burned to the ground. The [UN] Secretary General condemned it. Israel apologized and paid millions in compensation. And here we are again, in the same situation. It was not white phosphorous, of course, but here we are in the situation where thousands of people take refuge in the UN school and it takes a direct hit with Israeli fire. I think that we have moved into the realm of political action here. Only political actions and influences brought to bear on the relevant parties can make a difference, and we all know what the relative parties are and what kind of influence needs to be brought to bear.

RT: With the only power plant destroyed and hundreds of thousands having fled their homes - is it fair to call this a humanitarian catastrophe?

CG: Absolutely. 200,000 people plus nearly a quarter a million, in fact, have taken refuge in our shelters, 86 across the Gaza Strip. The Israeli authorities, the army have been leafleting, hundreds of thousands of people apparently and sending text messages telling them to leave. So that all adds up to potentially 400,000 people. On top of that people took refuge with families and friends. So goodness knows how many hundreds of thousands of people will be made homeless. Meanwhile, their homes are being destroyed. Many of them have their homes completely flattened. So they will be made homeless, they have been made homeless. I would describe that potentially hundreds of thousands of people, including women and children, have been made homeless in just over three weeks. I think it is a human catastrophe.