JERUSALEM - Thousands of Gaza children stayed away from class on Sunday and Monday after the United Nations closed schools to protect staff and pupils from rampant street violence.
Three children were killed and others wounded in a morning shooting outside a Gaza City school on 11 December. It is still not clear who was responsible for the shooting.
John Ging, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, told IRIN that the risk of more chaos in some areas was too great to allow children back on the streets.
“A large number of schools had to be closed today because we would not place children at risk of being caught up in the crossfire or anything else. And that again is a tragedy for these kids who should be in the classroom rather than at home,” he said.
“We assess the situation day by day,” added Ging.
UNRWA has been the main provider of basic education to Palestine refugees for nearly five decades. The Agency provides primary and junior secondary schooling free of charge for all Palestine refugee children in its area of operations.
Ging said schools were closed in the southern city of Khan Younis, the Jabalia refugee camp to the north of Gaza City, the Beach refugee camp in Gaza City and the Bureij refugee camp in the central governorate.
But UNRWA has so far been able to keep up its vital food delivery operation - the UN body feeds 800,000 refugees in Gaza, more than half the Strip’s 1.4 million population.
“We don’t want to put staff at risk but at the same time we have to keep going out because there are 800,000 people who depend on us for food. Our staff have to be very careful in their movements and we are monitoring the situation very carefully,” said Ging.
“Violence on the ground does affect our operations. The unrest makes our movements much more difficult and we have to take more and more security precautions. Where necessary, we use armoured vehicles.”
Overall, at least eight Palestinians have died in recent factional fighting between Hamas, which is in government, and Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Other NGOs, however, said that so far the violence had not prevented them from carrying out their work.
“Obviously we follow the situation very carefully but so far we haven’t been prevented from our work in the field,” said Landolt Caspar, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Two ICRC employees were briefly kidnapped in Gaza last month.
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