An Associated Press reporter on Monday grilled a State Department spokesperson over the US’s condemnation of an Israeli strike on a UN-run school in Gaza last summer, contrasting that response to Washington’s failure to condemn its own apparently accidental strike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan last week.
The US government has said that the bombing of the hospital in Kunduz, which killed at least 19 people and wounded dozens more, was a “tragic incident,” but has refrained from condemning the attack as “the facts are still emerging” and it is still under investigation.
During the daily press briefing, reporter Matthew Lee recalled that the State Department had issued a “very, very strong” statement after Israel bombed the UN school in the Gaza Strip, saying, “The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.”
The August 3 IDF strike, during last summer’s war in Gaza, left at least 10 dead, according to Palestinian sources. The IDF issued a statement saying that forces had targeted three Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists on board a motorcycle in vicinity of the school in Rafah.
“Is it… still Administration policy that the suspicion that militants are operating nearby a site like this, which is a school — that that suspicion does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of innocent civilians? Is that still the Administration’s position?” Lee asked.
Deputy spokesperson Mark Toner responded, “We always take great care and we are very adamant about stating when we see elsewhere attacks in areas where there could be civilian casualties to avoid civilian casualties.”
Lee, however, wasn’t satisfied with the answer. He pushed Toner, adding, “What I’m most curious about is that this statement said the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes, which – and the military has said that it was called in because the Afghans asked for it. But [Doctors Without Borders] says that they had been given the coordinates much in the same way the IDF had been given the coordinates of the school in Rafah.
“The question is: If the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes on a humanitarian facility for which the coordinates had been given, that it seems to have changed,” he said.
Toner said there remained “too much speculation at this point” to comment and asked to “wait for the investigation to run its course.”
Lee pointed out that the State Department’s statement on the strike on the school in Gaza had been issued before an investigation was carried out.
“So can you say now, knowing what you did, that you – that this shelling of this hospital was disgraceful and appalling?” he asked.
“Again, I would only just reiterate our sincere condolences to the victims of this attack and just again underscore the fact that we’re going to investigate this thoroughly,” Toner said. “And as I said, once those investigations are complete, we’re going to take steps to – either to hold any responsible parties accountable or to take measures that avoid any kind of accident like this in the future.”