UN inquiry finds Israel responsible for Gaza shelter strikes

Report also cites Hamas for hiding weapons in schools; secretary general deplores deaths; Israel says it will examine probe

A Palestinian looks for human remains in a classroom inside a UN school in Gaza City after the area was hit by shelling, July 30, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Marco Longari)
A Palestinian looks for human remains in a classroom inside a UN school in Gaza City after the area was hit by shelling, July 30, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Marco Longari)

A UN inquiry has found that at least 44 Palestinians were killed and at least 227 injured by “Israeli actions” while sheltering at UN locations during last year’s Gaza war.

Secretary Ban Ki-moon said Monday he deplores the deaths and calls UN locations “inviolable.”

But the independent board of inquiry also found that Palestinian militant groups hid weapons at three empty UN schools in Gaza and that in two cases Palestinian terrorists “probably” fired from the schools. Ban called that “unacceptable.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said that it would examine the inquiry.

The 2014 war was the most devastating for Gaza’s 1.8 million people, killing more than 2,200 Palestinians, a majority of them civilians, according to UN figures. Israel says about half of the dead were combatants, and blames Hamas for all civilian deaths, since it emplaced its war machine in civilian areas. Seventy-two people were killed on the Israeli side, including 66 soldiers. Hamas, which is avowedly committed to the destruction of Israel, fired over 4,500 rockets at Israel during the conflict, and carried out several attacks through tunnels under the border.

In one case, the new inquiry said, a UN girls’ school was hit by 88 mortar rounds fired by the Israeli Defense Forces. In another case, another girls’ school was hit by direct fire from the IDF with an anti-tank projectile. A third girls’ school was hit by an IDF missile.

The inquiry also found weak security at the UN schools where weapons were found. It said in two cases that a “Palestinian armed group” likely fired from two of the schools.

At a fourth girls’ school, the inquiry said, “no prior warning had been given by the government of Israel of the firing of 155 MM high explosive projectiles on, or in the surrounding area of the school.”

The UN released its summary of the report but said the full 207-page report is private. The inquiry looked at 10 incidents. Ban’s statement stressed that the board of inquiry “does not make legal findings” and was not tasked with addressing the wider issues of the Gaza war.

Ban ordered the inquiry in November after thousands of buildings were destroyed and at least 223 Gaza schools, either run by the UN refugee agency or the Islamist Hamas government, were hit in the fighting. Weapons caches were found in several UN schools that weren’t being used at the time.

When Ban visited Gaza in October, he said the destruction was “beyond description” and “much more serious” than what he witnessed in the Palestinian territory in 2009 in the aftermath of a the war known in Israel as Operation Cast Lead.

Ban said Monday he has established a group of senior managers to look into the inquiry’s recommendations.

The Foreign Ministry said it had received the executive summary of the UN report and would “study it carefully, with a view to continuing its cooperation with the UN secretary general and his staff regarding the protection of UN facilities, particularly in periods of armed conflict,” according to statement released Monday.

The ministry said in a statement that Israel had cooperated fully with the inquiry and that its internal investigations into several incidents during the summer war with Hamas were proof of commitment to avoiding civilian casualties.

The statement said that the report “clearly documents the exploitation by terrorist organizations of UN facilities in the Gaza Strip,” and that Israel was prepared to extend its assistance to UNRWA in protecting civilians and UN staff.

In March, Chief Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni announced that the military had opened six criminal investigations into several incidents during the war, including one in which the IDF fired tank shells at a UN school where hundreds of Palestinians had sought shelter.

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