In early June, At the start of the month, The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported the discovery of a tunnel under two of its schools in the Gaza Strip, the organization said in a statement issued on Saturday. The Gaza Hamas government has denied the report.
UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness issued a statement saying that the tunnel had been discovered beneath two adjacent schools, the Maghazi Elementary Boys A&B School, and the Maghazi Preparatory Boys School, both inside the Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. Both schools have been under construction during the summer.
According to Gunness, UNRWA has been unable to verify whether or not the tunnel uses entry or exit points on the school’s premises. Nevertheless, he condemned the construction of the tunnel “in the strongest possible terms.”
“It is unacceptable that students and staff are placed at risk in such a way. The construction and presence of tunnels under UN premises are incompatible with the respect of privileges and immunities owed to the United Nations under applicable international law, which provides that UN premises shall be inviolable,” he stated.
Gunness reported that UNRWA had complained to Hamas, informing them that the agency plans to seal the tunnel in the camp and has locked the school buildings the prevent entry of students and staff.
Gunness pleaded with “all parties” to respect the “neutrality and inviolability of the UN,” adding, “We demand they desist from any activities or conduct that put beneficiaries and staff at risk and undermine the ability of UN staff to provide assistance to Palestine refugees in safety and security.”
Hamas released a statement denying that it had any involvement in the tunnel. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said the group had requested clarification from all terror factions in the Gaza Strip and they all said they had nothing to do with the tunnel in question, and that they wouldn’t dream of violating the neutrality of UNRWA and put schoolchildren at risk.
In fact, Barhum said the UNRWA report could be used by Israel to justify more attacks against UNRWA schools in Gaza, which she had done during the 2014 Gaza war.