A UN board of inquiry has concluded that the Israeli army was responsible for seven attacks on UN facilities during last year’s assault on Gaza, strikes that killed 44 Palestinians and injured 227.
During the fighting, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians sought shelter in UN schools and other sites. Though their precise locations were repeatedly provided to the Israeli authorities, a number of schools were hit by mortar rounds and missiles fired by the IDF.
The incidents included a strike on Jabaliya Elementary girls’ school which was full of sleeping refugees. Israeli artillery shells killed some 18 people there, while in another incident, Israeli fire hit a UN school in Beit Hanoun killing 15 Palestinians awaiting evacuation in the playground.
In response to the seven deadly attacks on UN premises, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “I deplore the fact that at least 44 Palestinians were killed as a result of Israeli actions and at least 227 injured at United Nations premises being used as emergency shelters.”
The board of inquiry also concluded that Palestinian armed groups hid weapons at three empty UN schools, and “probably” fired from the schools in two cases. Ban Ki-moon said he was “dismayed” that UN schools were used in such a way.
Responding to the report, UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said that “despite numerous notifications to the Israeli army of the precise GPS coordinates of the schools and numerous notifications about the presence of displaced people,” the IDF was responsible for “all seven cases investigated by the Board of Inquiry when our schools were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity.”
Gunness continued: “The board confirms the use by the IDF of weaponry such as 120mm high explosive anti-tank projectiles and 155mm high explosive projectiles on or in the surrounding area of UNRWA schools where civilians had taken refuge.”
He also noted that “in none of the schools which were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, were weapons discovered or fired from.”
With regards to the storing of weapons at UN facilities on three occasions, Gunness said that the inquiry’s findings “are fully consistent with the statements made by UNRWA that we did not hand any weapons over to Hamas.”
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed the report “documents the exploitation by terrorist organisations of UN facilities in the Gaza Strip.” The statement added that “all of the incidents attributed by the report to Israel” have already “been subject to thorough examinations”, with criminal investigations “launched where relevant”.
Israel had previously lobbied Ban Ki-moon’s office to delay such an inquiry before Israel’s military prosecutors complete their own investigations into incidents during “Operation Protective Edge”.
Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters that the group would thoroughly study the report and had no information about weapons being hidden in UN schools. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Maliki said the report would be presented to the International Criminal Court.
The inquiry was headed by Patrick Cammaert, a former senior officer in the Dutch military, along with four others: Maria Vicien-Milburn, legal adviser to UNESCO; Lee O’Brien, senior official in the diplomatic department of the UN Secretariat in New York; Pierre Lemelin, an expert in international law; and K.C. Reddy, a former UN security officer.
Though the full 207-page report is classified, a 27-page summary can be read here.