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UN chief laments inability to protect staff killed in Israeli war on Gaza

A UNRWA personnel checks a burnt room at a school hit by Israel in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on May 17, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has paid tribute to the UN personnel who were killed in the Israeli regime’s onslaught on Gaza, lamenting the fact that the international organization was unable to protect them.

Guterres on Thursday attended a sombre ceremony at the United Nations Headquarters, in New York, to mourn the 188 UN personnel who lost their lives while on duty in 2023.

“Today we remember & honor our 188 UN colleagues who lost their lives in the line of duty last year,” Guterres said.

Among the staff were 135 individuals, both women and men, working with UNRWA, who were killed during the Israeli regime’s genocide in Gaza that began in October.

Guterres said some of the UNRWA personnel “were killed with their families by bombardment of their homes; others were at work, both in offices and shelters.” He reiterated his call “for a full accounting for each and every one of these deaths.”

“They were teachers, drivers, doctors, sanitation workers, guards, pharmacists, administrative assistants and more. They were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives. They were our colleagues. They were our friends. And I am personally devastated that despite our best efforts, we could not protect our personnel in Gaza,” he said.

The 135 UNRWA personnel killed in Gaza represent the highest number of UN personnel killed in a single conflict or natural disaster since the creation of the United Nations.

“That is by far the highest number of our personnel killed in a single conflict or natural disaster since the creation of the United Nations – a reality we can never accept,” the UN chief lamented.

Many casualties occurred among their families and the communities they were dedicated to serving.

The institution adhered to its regulations by obtaining consent from family members to include their loved ones' names in the service. Nevertheless, for UNRWA, only 22 families could be contacted.

“Unfortunately, we were unable to contact many of the family members of our UNRWA colleagues because they have either been killed or forced from their homes by Israeli military operations,” Guterres further explained.

On Thursday, Philippe Lazzarini, the UNRWA chief, reported that a school that had been converted into a temporary shelter by UNRWA was targeted by an Israeli airstrike overnight, resulting in the death of at least 40 people, including women and children.

The shelter was accommodating 6,000 displaced individuals at the time of the attack.

"Another horrific day in Gaza. Another UNRWA school turned shelter attacked. This time in Nuseirat, in the Middle Areas, hit overnight by the Israeli Forces without prior warning to the displaced or UNRWA," he said on the X social media platform.

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