BEIRUT

Middle East

UNRWA reports first aid worker deaths in Gaza

Palestinian rescue workers search for victims under the rubble of a house that witnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike during an Israeli ground offensive east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip July 24, 2014. (REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

BEIRUT: The U.N. aid agency for Palestinians said Thursday that three of its staff had been killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, the first fatalities of UNRWA aid workers reported since the latest Israeli offensive on the coastal strip began 17 days ago.

“Three UNRWA teachers killed in Gaza,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness tweeted Thursday. “My heart breaks for any humanitarian worker who pays the ultimate price, killed helping others.”

In a letter from UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl to staff, obtained Thursday afternoon by The Daily Star, the aid agency said all three were Palestinians and that it was withholding their names until their families had been notified.

“The first casualty, a colleague who had served UNRWA for 20 years, was aged 55, and was killed on 20 July by an air strike on a neighbouring house,” Krahenbuh said.

On July 21, a 30-year-old teacher was killed along with 10 members of her family after fleeing fighting in Gaza City’s Shejaiya district.

Krahenbuhl said the latest casualty was a 40-year-old teacher killed Wednesday while on his way home from the Zaitoun school emergency shelter.

“Our three colleagues are the first UNRWA staff to be killed in this conflict,” he wrote. “They were humanitarian workers, committed to their work and to serving Palestine refugees. Working in Gaza was never easy, particularly under the circumstances of siege and isolation. In these past weeks, however, it became even harder, and yet they, like all of our colleagues, remained determined to do their utmost for the communities we support.”

UNRWA said Thursday that 141,348 displaced people had sought shelter so far in more than 82 of the agency’s facilities in Gaza.

The death toll from Israel’s assault on Gaza has reached more than 700, while more than 30 Israeli civilians and soldiers have been killed so far.

 

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