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UNRWA calls for ‘independent’ probe into Gaza school bombing

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has called for an “independent investigation” into Israel’s bombing of a school in central Gaza as the war entered it’s 10th month.

The school, run by the UN agency which helps Palestinian refugees, served as a shelter for 2,000 displaced persons in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza.

“Another day. Another month. Another school hit,” said Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, the largest aid agency in Gaza, in a post on X, formerly Twitter, after a school in Nuseirat, central Gaza, was “hit by the Israeli Forces” on Saturday. It was home to nearly 2,000 people forcibly displaced by the hostilities, the UNRWA Commissioner-General said, adding that dozens of casualties had been reported.

The development comes as ceasefire and hostage-release talks were reportedly due to resume in coming days. Repeated previous efforts to make headway have foundered, despite sustained international pressure from Member States with influence on both sides.

Success in negotiations this week will depend on satisfying Hamas’s call for a permanent end to the fighting and intense Israeli airstrikes which have flattened vast areas of the enclave, and the Israeli Government’s stated war aim of destroying Hamas’s military capability after the group attacked on 7 October.

To date, tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed, according to the Gazan health authorities and latest data from UNRWA indicates that at least 520 people sheltering in the UN agency’s shelters have been killed and at least 1,602 injured since the start of the war.

In a regular situation update, the UN aid coordination office, OCHA, reported that up to 1.9 million people in Gaza have been uprooted by the war, including some displaced “nine or 10 times”. Previous estimates were 1.7 million but this was before the Israeli operation in Rafah in early May, which led to additional displacements from Rafah and other parts across the Gaza Strip.

The renewed push for an end to the war comes amid daily exchanges of fire between Lebanese militants, Israel, and key Hamas ally, Hezbollah, across the UN-monitored Blue Line separating them.

On Sunday, the Lebanon-based group claimed responsibility for a reported drone strike on Mount Hermon in the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights. Hezbollah has said that it will halt operations only when the war in Gaza ends.

“The gradual expansion in the scope and scale of the confrontations well beyond the Blue Line significantly raises the risk of miscalculation and further deterioration of an already alarming situation,” the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) told UN News, ahead of the latest escalation.

Citing latest OCHA data, the UN force said that nearly 97,000 people have been displaced from southern Lebanon because of the ongoing hostilities as of 25 June; more than 1,800 casualties have been reported including 435 deaths of whom 97 were civilians. “A political and diplomatic solution is the only viable long-term solution,” it insisted.

Responding to the school strike and Israeli military claims that it had been used by Palestinian armed groups, UNRWA’s chief, Lazzarini said that he took the allegations “very seriously.

“It is exactly why I have repeatedly called for independent investigations to ascertain the facts and identify those responsible for attacks on UN premises or their misuse”, he said – a reference to an ongoing UN office investigation into Israeli assertions that 12 UNRWA staff were involved in the 7 October Hamas-led attacks.

Eight UNRWA staff remain under investigation by the UN’s internal oversight body, OIOS; to date, it has suspended three other cases citing insufficient evidence from the Israeli authorities and closed one case because Israel had not provided any supporting evidence, it has been reported.

“Nine months on this brutal war, I call once again for a ceasefire under which people in Gaza and Israel would finally get respite and protection and all hostages would be immediately released,” Lazzarini said.

“The longer this war goes on, the deeper the rift will become, & the more suffering people will endure.”