The Al-Nour Rehabilitation Centre for the Visually Impaired, the only institution of its kind in the Gaza Strip, has been extensively damaged by flying debris and the explosive force of the air raid. At least 15 classrooms have been put out of action, dozens of windows have been ripped from their frames and a children’s playground and garden has been turned from an oasis of calm into a wasteland of twisted metal and rubble. Heavy pieces of shrapnel blew though the windows of the school and in one case landed in the kindergarten used during the day by four and five year olds with sight problems.
The school for the blind, which in November was presented with the Sharjah Award for Excellence for its innovative treatment of children with special needs, has been damaged on five other occasions by Israeli bombing raids on the Gaza police headquarters building which sits adjacent to the site. The latest raid, which targeted the empty shell of the police headquarters, has now damaged around half of the classrooms in the school.
Mr Peter Hansen, UNRWA’s Commissioner General said: “The only thing that could have been damaged by such a raid was the blind school because the police headquarters had already been hit five times. We will protest this action to the Israeli authorities in the strongest possible terms and will ask to be reimbursed for the damage. UNRWA has to work with limited resources and the repairs we have to make to the school should not mean less food aid or fewer work programmes for the poor of Gaza. Under the terms of international conventions Israel has a duty to safeguard UN installations and personnel. Such bombing raids in heavily populated civilian areas, next to a school flying a UN flag that is brightly lit at night, are totally unacceptable.”
The damage to the school comes just days after two UNRWA schools in Balata and Jenin camps in the West Bank were temporarily taken over by Israeli forces which lead to both schools being badly damaged.
The Al-Nour Centre was extensively re-built in 1996 thanks to a grant from the Government of Japan. This enabled the school to build an outreach programme for the visually impaired throughout Gaza in addition to the 350 pupils who receive lessons in the building daily. The Agency plans to re-start classes for the children as soon as possible in other parts of the building.