UN's Ban mulls investigation into attacks on UNRWA facilities during Gaza operation

Ban is quoted as saying that an investigative committee of this nature – if and when it is needed – would only begin its work after the UN Human Rights Council probe.

September 10, 2014 09:14
3 minute read.

Liberman and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. (photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Arab-language daily Al-Hayat that the global body is considering a separate investigation into the circumstances surrounding the attacks on the organization’s facilities and workers in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge.

Ban was quoted as saying that an investigative committee of this nature – if, and when it is needed – would only begin its work after the UN Human Rights Council probe, headed by Canadian jurist William Schabas, completes its mandate.

According to Al-Hayat, a London-based, Saudi-funded paper, Ban said the goal of the investigation would be to look into “the killing and wounding of United Nations personnel and the destruction of its facilities and to hold accountable those responsible, whoever they are.”

The UN secretary-general told the newspaper that he had discussed the matter with Israeli officials.

During Operation Protective Edge, there was fury that Hamas had used UNRWA facilities in Gaza to store rockets and munitions.

In a meeting with Ban last month, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman decried that not only were rockets found in UNRWA schools in Gaza, but that the body then turned them over to Hamas.

UNRWA has admitted finding Hamas rockets in its facilities on at least three occasions during the conflict.

It claimed it handed them over to local authorities “answerable to the [Palestinian] national unity government.”

Liberman said Israel was very troubled by these developments.

In a separate incident, at least 19 Palestinians in an UNRWA-run school in the northern Gazan town of Jabalya were killed by Israeli tank shells. The IDF said that Hamas gunmen near the facility had fired mortar bombs, forcing troops to return fire.

UNRWA runs more than 200 schools in Gaza.

During the 50-day operation, its facilities housed Gazans who fled their homes to escape IDF aerial attacks.

“We condemn the group or groups who endangered civilians by placing these munitions in our school.

This is yet another flagrant violation of the neutrality of our premises. We call on all the warring parties to respect the inviolability of UN property,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said at the time.

In the wide ranging interview, Ban urged President Bashar Assad to seek a political solution to Syria’s civil war, saying this would help international efforts against Islamic State insurgents in his country and Iraq.

Ban said years of war between Assad’s forces and armed rebel groups had allowed terrorists such as Islamic State to take root in the region.

Asked whether Assad would have any role to play in an international coalition being assembled to fight Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the UN secretary-general said the Syrian president could contribute by working politically toward an end to his country’s civil war.

“He [Assad] can play a role through ending the crisis as soon as possible and engaging in political dialogue,” Al-Hayat quoted him as saying.

In July, when Assad was sworn in for a third term as president, he vowed to recover all of Syria from Islamist guerrillas and dismissed the Syrian opposition abroad as traitors. But he said he would be willing to work with the country’s internal opposition, without giving details.

The United States has carried out weeks of air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq, but the outlook for US air raids in Syria is much less clear.

While Iraq’s government welcomed the role of US warplanes to attack the fighters, Assad has warned that any strikes conducted without his country’s permission would be considered an act of aggression, potentially plunging any US-led coalition into a broader conflict with Syria.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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