UNRWA Condemns Neutrality Violation in Gaza in the Strongest Possible Terms

09 June 2017

Statement by UNRWA Spokesperson Christopher Gunness

On 1 June UNRWA discovered part of a tunnel that passes under two adjacent Agency schools in Maghazi camp in the Gaza Strip, namely the Maghazi Elementary Boys A&B School and the Maghazi Preparatory Boys School.  The schools are located on the same premises.  The discovery was made during the summer vacation, at a time when the schools are empty, and in the course of work related to the construction of an extension of one of the buildings.

Following a thorough inspection of the site, UNRWA can confirm that the tunnel has no entry or exit points on the premises nor is it connected to the schools or other buildings in any way. 

UNRWA condemns the existence of such tunnels 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. The sanctity and neutrality of UN premises must be preserved at all times.

UNRWA has robustly intervened and protested to Hamas in Gaza. It has also informed them that the Agency intends to seal the tunnel under its premises, as an immediate priority. We will not allow any students or staff into the building until the issue is resolved.

The Agency again demands that all parties respect the neutrality and inviolability of United Nations premises at all times.  Furthermore, 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.

Background Information

UNRWA is confronted with an increased demand for services resulting from a growth in the number of registered Palestine refugees, the extent of their vulnerability and their deepening poverty. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions and financial support has been outpaced by the growth in needs. As a result, the UNRWA Programme Budget, which supports the delivery of core essential services, operates with a large shortfall. UNRWA encourages all Member States to work collectively to exert all possible efforts to fully fund the Agency’s Programme Budget. UNRWA emergency programmes and key projects, also operating with large shortfalls, are funded through separate funding portals.

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and mandated to provide assistance and protection to some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip achieve their full human development potential, pending a just and lasting solution to their plight. UNRWA services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, protection and microfinance.

For more information, please contact:

Christopher Gunness
Spokesperson, Director of Advocacy & Strategic Communications
Mobile: 
+972 (0)54 240 2659
Office: 
+972 (0)2 589 0267
Sami Mshasha
Chief of Communications, Arabic Language Spokesperson
Mobile: 
+972 (0)54 216 8295
Office: 
+972 (0)2 589 0724