Photo Credit: Majdi Fathi/TPS
The Field Offices of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza city. Gaza, Nov 17, 2020

Israel’s Ambassador to the US and the United Nations Gilad Erdan sent a letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres and to the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, UN Under-Secretary-General Philippe Lazzarini demanding action after UN officials were barred by Hamas from inspecting a UNRWA school in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza.

The attempt to inspect the schools and ensure they were safe ahead of the school year comes after the revelation by the IDF of an attack tunnel that had been built by Hamas beneath the school.

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As a result of Hamas’s refusal to allow the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) to inspect the first school, a similar planned inspection of another UNRWA school by UNMAS was called off as well. The schools will remain closed to their some 4,000 students until further notice.

UNRWA has previously found Hamas weapons and explosives hidden below its compounds.

Erdan wrote in the letter sent Wednesday that “these obstructionist actions by Hamas are an attempt by the designated terrorist organization to obscure its appalling violations of international law. Hamas commits heinous double war crimes against children, by using Palestinian students and their schools as human shields to hide their military efforts, while targeting Israeli civilians, including schoolchildren.”

Erdan called on the senior UN officials and all relevant UN bodies to “condemn Hamas in no uncertain terms for its ongoing violations of international law and for the organization’s attempts to prevent a full investigation of its actions and to avert accountability.

He further requested that the UN freeze all funding of UNRWA’s facilities in Gaza and bar their usage until the completion of “a thorough and independent investigation of Hamas’ use and abuse of these institutions to advance its reign of terror.”

“The UN, as the institution charged with the maintenance of international peace and security, cannot allow its own schools and buildings be used as a sanctuary for terrorists and terrorist activity. Nor can we risk exposing schoolchildren – be they Palestinian or Israeli – to the danger of unchecked Hamas activity in their midst,” he stated.

He concluded with a call “to take decisive action to verify and ensure that all UN facilities in Gaza, including UNRWA schools, are free and clear from the threat of Hamas and other terrorist activity.”

UNRWA stated Wednesday that “its installations are inviolable at all times, as it conducts follow-up risks assessment” through the UNMAS.

The initial risk assessments have indicated the existence of “underground structures that could have led to further damage.”

UNRWA “condemns the existence and potential use of such underground structures, including tunnels, in the strongest possible terms, and letters of protest have been sent to the de facto authorities in Gaza.”

However, UNRWA failed to mention Hamas by name.

UNRWA also protested the “takeover by the de facto authorities” of one of these schools, which “undermines the inviolability and neutrality of UNRWA premises. These actions also stand to compromise the safe return of children to their schools and scuttles the Agency efforts to open the schools on time.”

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Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.