UNWRA: Hamas didn't fire from UN compounds

IDF source denies UNWRA official's claim that officers admitted buildings weren't hit by Hamas fire.

By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
January 18, 2009 23:30
3 minute read.
UNWRA: Hamas didn't fire from UN compounds

UN school gaza 248 88 ap. (photo credit: AP [file])

 
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A spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said Sunday that senior IDF officers quietly admitted that Hamas fighters had not shot from UNRWA buildings hit last week by IDF fire. According to Christopher Gunness, the IDF's claim that it was returning fire from gunmen within or near the UN compounds was "baseless misinformation." "Senior IDF officials fully admitted to us in coordination meetings that there were no militants inside our compound," he told The Jerusalem Post. "So you have public statements that say UNRWA is allowing terrorists into its facilities, while in meetings they fully acknowledge [this was untrue]." He added that there was "a pattern emerging of the IDF making false allegations against UNRWA," and he called on the army and Israeli spokespeople generally "to sort out their messaging, because with every flip and every flop, their credibility is hanging in rags." A senior officer in the IDF Spokesman's Unit replied by saying that "ground troops were responding to fire which placed them in mortal danger." A senior IDF source questioned on the matter asked for the identity of the senior army officers Gunness claimed had made the "admission," but Gunness said he could not divulge the names because "we have a working relationship with them." The source said it was unlikely such an admission had been made, if only because an investigation into the incidents was still under way. The IDF's current information pointed to Hamas fighters shooting from within or near the UN buildings, he added. "Why would an IDF unit that is not threatened by fire shoot multiple times at a building marked with the seal of an international organization?" asked the IDF officer. "The soldiers might as well have shot themselves in the foot for the damage it does us when such buildings are hit. If I could put an entire infantry company to protect each UN institution, I would." According to the Foreign Ministry's deputy director-general for public relations, Aviv Shir-On, Israel has not lied about the events surrounding the fire on the UNRWA buildings. "In the heat of battle there can be mistakes and difficulties, but we try to give the true explanation every time," he said, noting that "IDF soldiers were hit by friendly fire several times, which is proof that things can happen by mistake." The troops in Gaza "were fighting in tight quarters and getting shot at from every direction," he said. Meanwhile, Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog publicly apologized Sunday for last week's shelling of the Gaza City UNRWA headquarters, which he said had likely occurred because of Hamas fire in the area. "The incident is still under investigation, but it seems that there may have been a sequence of events where gunfire was shot at Israeli soldiers from the adjacent premises," he said at a press conference at the Erez crossing. The IDF fired back, and shrapnel from that return volley went over the fence and into the compound, where it set ablaze some of the gas supplies that UNRWA had stored there, he said. "We have apologized to UNRWA and to the UN secretary-general," said Herzog, who was tasked last week with coordinating Israel's humanitarian efforts in Gaza. During the last three weeks of fighting, he said, Israel had taken many steps to protect the civilians in Gaza. "[The IDF] made 250,000 phone calls, it has sent text messages and delivered leaflets by air. It has interfered with broadcasts on television and on radio and asked people to move away. It did what ever it could to prevent human suffering," he said. He added that in some cases, civilians had ignored the warnings and refused to take precautions or move away. Herzog said it was likely that the number of civilian casualties was inflated, and that these casualties had occurred in areas where Hamas was firing or using people as human shields. "We urge caution regarding the data," he said. According to Palestinian figures, the death toll in Gaza passed 1,300 on Sunday, with varying estimates for civilian casualties hovering between a third and a half of that figure. The number is likely to rise as bodies are recovered from wreckage and Palestinians stumble into ordinance and booby traps left over from the fighting. Israel can only "make sure everyone understands that Hamas took the Gaza population hostage in this conflict," Shir-On said. Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.

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