UN chief singles out Israel in debate on kids in armed conflict

‘Deeply alarmed’ by casualties of Gaza war, Ban urges Jerusalem to do more to protect children; Israel decries UN bias

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (center) addresses a UN Alliance of Civilizations panel discussion on youth and peacebuilding on June 17, 2015. (Eskinder Debebe/UN)
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (center) addresses a UN Alliance of Civilizations panel discussion on youth and peacebuilding on June 17, 2015. (Eskinder Debebe/UN)

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon singled out Israel on Thursday in a Security Council debate on children killed or injured in armed conflicts, drawing fire from Israel’s top diplomat.

While Ban mentioned war zones such as Iraq, Syria and South Sudan, Israel was the only country he called on to take action to protect children in war zones.

“Last year was one of the worst in recent memory for children in countries affected by conflict,” the UN leader said, adding he is “deeply alarmed at the suffering of so many children as a result of Israeli military operations in Gaza last year.”

“I urge Israel to take concrete and immediate steps, including by reviewing existing policies and practices, to protect and prevent the killing and maiming of children, and to respect the special protections afforded to schools and hospitals,” he added.

The secretary-general’s latest report said that in the Gaza conflict at least 561 children were killed — 557 of them Palestinians. It said 4,271 youngsters were injured, all but 22 Palestinians. A recent Israeli report said 369 of those killed during the 50-day conflict were children under the age of 15.

The 557 Palestinian deaths in the UN tally were the third-highest death toll of any conflict in 2014, after Afghanistan’s with 710 child killings and Iraq’s with 679 — but ahead of Syria’s with 368.

The UN chief didn’t address the reasoning behind his decision last week not to include Israel on his annual list of parties that kill or injure children in armed conflict in a speech to a Security Council meeting. That decision sparked protests from human rights groups and many in the Arab world and elsewhere.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely decried the UN’s “biased and one-sided” approach.

“While wars are waged incessantly in the Middle East and children are slaughtered, the UN regularly decides to mention Israel in the same breath as countries that have long not had any basic human rights,” Hotovely said in a statement. “The State of Israel does everything to protect the lives of civilians on enemy territory, while Hamas cynically uses children and civilian infrastructure and deliberately brings harm to human life.”

Meretz Member of Knesset Ilan Gilon slammed the UN leader’s naming of Israel alongside countries “who use terror against their citizens” as “utter stupidity and completely invalidates the UN’s moral authority,” the NRG website reported.

Ban’s statement came hours after Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor sent a letter to the secretary general saying a report released that day on children and armed conflict focused disproportionately on the Jewish state compared to other war zones.

In his missive, Prosor raised “deep concerns regarding the improper conduct — at every working level — of the office of… [Algerian legal expert Leila] Zerrougui in the process of drafting and producing the report.”

Prosor also accused Zerrougui of “biased conduct against Israel” and maintained that Israel did not violate international law during the summer 2014 conflict in the Gaza Strip, when the Israel Defense Forces battled against Hamas and other Palestinian militias for 50 days.

Ban defended his report, saying the content “should speak for itself.”

He said a debate is appropriate “but national interests should not cloud the objective at stake, which is protecting children.”

Zerrougui also said she stood by the report. She told reporters that Israel has been included in the annual report since 2005, and the same working methods have been used and it never complained in the past.

Some 2,100 Gazans were killed during last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas led-fighters, according to Palestinian tallies. Israel says that up to half of those killed were fighters and blames Hamas for all civilian deaths in Gaza, since Hamas and other terror groups placed military infrastructure in residential areas of the crowded enclave.

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