A United Nations spokesperson on Tuesday refuted a statement made a day earlier by the former commander of the Israeli army that said mortar fire that killed a 4-year-old Israeli boy came from a UN installation in Gaza, calling the claim “false.”
UNRWA Spokesperson Chris Gunness wrote in a statement that the army itself had retracted the allegation in the immediate aftermath of the incident during the summer war in Gaza.
“It is extremely disappointing that a former head of the Israeli army should repeat an allegation publicly retracted by his own spokesperson,” Gunness wrote. “It is unfortunate and creates a hostile environment for humanitarian agencies.”
Gunness noted on Twitter that an Israeli army spokesman, several hours after the August 22 death of four-year-old Daniel Tragerman, retracted the claim that the round had been fired from within a UN facility.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner at the time wrote, in a two-part tweet, that “the school the mortar was launched near from [sic] is not being used as a shelter by UNRWA but rather a shelter maintained by Hamas authorities in Gaza.”
Lerner was not at the time of publication on Tuesday able to elaborate on former IDF chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. (res) Benny Gantz’s statement.
“I went and visited the civilians that were killed. That includes the family of Daniel Tragerman, four years old, that I was in the same kibbutz when they shot those mortars from a UN installation in Gaza,” Gantz had told a conference on Monday.
A UN panel last Monday submitted a summary of events affecting UN personnel and facilities during the war. The Board of Inquiry, as it’s known, reviewed and investigated seven incidents involving the loss of 44 Palestinian lives, at least 227 injuries and damage at UN facilities, a statement read. The Board also reviewed three incidents involving weapons found in UNRWA schools, including instances in which Palestinian armed groups may have used UNRWA school premises to launch attacks.
The IDF, which faces a militarily inferior enemy that embeds itself among its own civilians, at least twice during the 50-day war retracted assertions that Israelis were killed in attacks launched from within UN installations. The first instance came on July 30 when IDF Gaza Division commander, Brig. Gen. Micky Edelstein, said in a briefing that three IDF soldiers were killed in an explosion at a booby-trapped UNRWA health clinic that housed a tunnel entry shaft.
He described a cautious entry procedure, as befitting a medical clinic, and then said that “we enter with our people, and they [the militants], from the very same terror tunnel, they blow up half the clinic on our troops.”
Later that same day a spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the military unit that implements government policies in the Palestinian areas, said that the clinic in Abu Daka, outside Khan Younis, was last registered as a sensitive location three years ago, “and it hasn’t been since.”
The spokesperson said the site had not been registered then as belonging to UNRWA, leading to speculation that perhaps combatants stole the sign and tacked it on the door, posting it as a security umbrella under which a tunnel could be dug.
Gantz, who happened to be visiting Kibbutz Nahal Oz — a community perched roughly one mile from the Gaza Strip — when a mortar shell fired from Gaza landed outside the Tragerman family’s home, killing Daniel, said Monday that democratic countries must update the laws of war, returning to a period “when the laws of war were meant to limit the bad guys” and not a tool to be used by terror organizations in the asymmetric battles of today.