GAZA – UN-run schools in Gaza look very little like places of learning these days in the midst of a conflict between Israel and Palestinian armed groups that is in its second week.
Laundry is hung on makeshift washing lines, mothers scrub infants at bathroom sinks and classrooms have become dormitories with desks stacked up and blankets spread on the floor.
For Palestinians crammed into this narrow strip of land, wedged between Israel, the Mediterranean and a small stretch of Egypt, there are few places to seek shelter from bombardment.
So, many have fled to schools run by the U.N. refugee agency UNRWA, which estimates that 47,000 Palestinians are now camped out in the 58 education establishments it runs in the enclave.
“We have quit without taking mattresses or anything. We left the house as it is, and we escaped,” said Hassan Haboub, a father of nine whose family have made a temporary home in the four-storey complex of Gaza City s Beach elementary school.
“We have nothing but UNRWA,” said Haboub, whose family fled to Gaza when they became refugees in 1948 from Ashkelon, a city that lies north of Gaza s border.
Israeli airstrikes have pounded Gaza day and night since the conflict flared on May 10, while in Israeli cities, like Ashkelon, residents race for shelters or safe rooms, if they have them, every few hours or minutes to flee militant rockets.
Nearly 450 buildings in Gaza, an enclave that is home to 2 million people, have been destroyed or badly damaged, the United Nations says. Most of the 52,000 who have been displaced are in U.N. schools, it says.
Israel says it only hits legitimate military targets, gives advanced warning if it targets residential buildings that it says are used by militants and does everything it can to prevent civilian casualties.
“Hamas shoots its rockets at Israel out of mosques, out of schools, out of playgrounds, out of built-up areas, precisely to make it more difficult for us to try and target them,” Mark Regev, senior adviser to Israel s prime minister, told Britain s LBC radio on Sunday.