28 July 2014, Geneva, Switzerland - On Friday 25 July, as the conflict in Gaza intensified, UNOSAT analysts prepared to spend another weekend working on incoming high-resolution satellite images of the areas concerned by the hostilities. Their job: assess from space the level of damage to civilian structures and community facilities in Gaza to help UNRWA and OCHA determine the humanitarian situation and the needs of the civilian populations caught in the conflict zone. UNRWA is the United Nations agency established in 1949 to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In cases where access by UN teams to stricken areas is impossible or too risky, UNOSAT damage assessment reports are often the first reliable source of information, even pending their validation by missions on the ground. The resolution of imagery commercially available nowadays is good enough to guarantee that the impact of shelling and heavy weapons is clearly detected. Some of UNOSAT analysis done for UNRWA and OCHA in the past two weeks show the condition of buildings and structures in various quarters of Gaza before and after shelling and bombing occurred during the hostilities.

UNOSAT analysis released on Saturday 26 July and based on imagery captured by French satellites Pleiades recorded 700 buildings destroyed in Gaza. The UN Protection Cluster says that the total number of Palestinian deaths stands at 930 while the number of displaced people in UNRWA shelters exceeds 167,269 in 83 schools. A total of 94 UNRWA installations have been damaged since 1 June, 2014, many of them on multiple occasions.

In a public statement, the Head of UNRWA, Pierre Krähenbühl, said “The scenes of carnage and human suffering that we witnessed at our elementary school in Beit Hanoun were so appalling and intolerable, that it is difficult to find the words to convey adequately my indignation. As has happened so many times in this pitiless conflict, civilians are paying the highest price of the current military escalation”.   Displaced Palestinians had sought refuge in this school that had been designated as an UNRWA Emergency Shelter.

All UNOSAT maps on Gaza are at this link.

Photo: Civilians in Gaza after the recent strikes. Credit UN Photo/S.Sarhan.