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On Tuesday morning, 16 March 2004, Israeli occupying forces destroyed the educational studies campus of al-Aqsa University, located near al-Shuhada (Netzarim) junction, south of Gaza city. This attack occurred within the context of the continuous escalation of Israeli belligerent attacks on Palestinian civilian properties and facilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs).
According to preliminary investigations conducted by PCHR, at approximately 02:30 on Tuesday, dozens of Israeli military vehicles moved from “Netzarim” settlement, south of Gaza city, towards al-Shuhada junction. Israeli forces then moved at least 1 kilometer to the north inside al-Zaytoun neighborhood, took position near a concrete factory, and imposed a siege on the area, which included the educational studies campus of al-Aqsa University and neighboring houses.
According to a number of residents of the area, Israeli soldiers forced them out of their homes and planted explosives inside the campus of al-Aqsa University, destroying it. As a result, a number of neighboring houses were damaged and a woman and two members of the Palestinian National Security Force were injured. Israeli military bulldozers also razed areas of agricultural land in the same area.
According to Dr. Nihad al-Yazaji, Deputy Head of Administrative Affairs at al-Aqsa University, the destroyed campus stood on a 5.5-donum area of land. One of its buildings consisted of two flours and stood on a 1272-square-meter area of land, and another building consisted of one floor and stood on a 500-square-meter area of land. These buildings included 16 classrooms, 6 offices, 3 laboratories, a library and a cafeteria.
The campus used to serve about 3000 students, and the university administration has been forced to transfer those students to other campuses since 18 January 2001, due to repeated Israeli military attacks on the campus. According to university sources, the losses resulting from this destruction are estimated preliminarily to be more than US$ 700,000, not including the price of the land on which it stood and equipment inside.
PCHR strongly condemns this violation of international law, which comes as part of continuous belligerent Israeli military attacks on Palestinian educational institutions. PCHR notes with concern that these attacks have destroyed 73 educational institutions in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the current Intifada.
PCHR calls upon the international community, through the United Nations bodies, to immediately act to stop these gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, perpetrated by Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians and their properties, including the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.
PCHR calls upon UNESCO to immediately intervene to stop the Israeli attacks on the Palestinian educational institutional system. It also calls upon it to establish an commission of inquiry to investigate Israeli military attacks on Palestinian educational institutions and present the findings to the United Nations.
PCHR calls upon international NGOs to take up their expected role in pressuring their governments to force Israel to comply with international instruments and treaties, especially International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the right of people to self-determination.