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Report: 45 percent of UNRWA schools affected by violence in past 5 years

May 22, 2016 10:24 P.M. (Updated: May 23, 2016 5:24 P.M.)
Palestinians take refuge in an UNRWA school during the 2014 Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip (AFP, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Almost half of schools run by UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, have been “directly” affected by violence and conflict in the past five years, the organization said in a report released on Sunday.

According to the report, 302 of UNRWA’s 692 schools across the Middle East -- representing 44 percent of its educational establishments -- have been rendered inoperative at some point since 2011.

UNRWA reportedly provides free basic education to around 500,000 Palestinian refugee children in the occupied Palestinian territory, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon.

In Syria, UNRWA said that at least 70 percent of its schools were either damaged or used as shelters for displaced civilians affected by the devastating five-year war. Only 44 of UNRWA’s 118 schools in the country are still in use.

In the Gaza Strip, 83 UNRWA schools were damaged and 90 were used as emergency shelters during a deadly Israeli offensive in 2014 which destroyed much of the besieged Palestinian territory’s infrastructure.

According to the report, six schools were struck by shells and munitions during the conflict, causing 44 deaths and 227 injuries despite the UN having communicated their coordinates to Israeli authorities.

In the occupied West Bank, UNRWA deplored the effect of the Israeli military occupation on Palestinian children’s education, noting that school closures, checkpoints and frequent use of tear gas near schools marked “increasing challenges” in an already difficult context.

Meanwhile, UNRWA said that sporadic clashes in Lebanon had led 36 of its schools to temporarily suspend classes on several instances in the past five years.

“UNRWA calls on all relevant actors to guarantee children’s safe access to schools, which includes ensuring students’ passage through checkpoints in a timely manner, free from intimidation, harassment and violence, and not conducting military operations near schools during school hours,” the report read.

The UN agency also urged “all relevant authorities to monitor and properly investigate attacks on schools, students and education staff in violation of international law with a view to holding those responsible accountable for such actions and providing victims with effective remedies, including reparations in accordance with international standards.”

Due to a lack of funding from state donors, UNRWA faced a severe financial crisis in 2015 which at one point threatened to delay the beginning of the school year.

The UN agency was only able to announce that the year would go ahead as scheduled after a last minute scramble for funding secured just short of $80 million in contributions against its deficit.
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