UN: IDF did not shell UNRWA school

"Clerical error" blamed for false report accusing Israel of hitting building during Operation Cast Lead.

By
February 1, 2009 23:37
2 minute read.
UN: IDF did not shell UNRWA school

unrwa school funeral 248.88. (photo credit: AP)

 
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A clerical error led the UN to falsely accuse Israel of shelling one of its Gaza schools in the Jabalya refugee camp during Operation Cast Lead, the international organization admitted this week. For close to a month, the UN accused the Israel of hitting the educational compound ran by its Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, which was sheltering more than 1,300 Gazans as the IDF battled Hamas in the camp on January 6. The strike made international headlines and was one of the many incidents of civilian deaths that led nongovernmental organization and international politicians to call for Israelis to be charged with war crimes for the 22-day military offensive. Israel in turn initially said that it shelled the school only after it had been fired on by Hamas gunmen hiding in the compound and then, upon reexamination, shifted to say that an errant shell had hit the school. At the time UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the IDF attack "outrageous" and demanded an investigation. But on Tuesday, the UN's Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) slipped a "clarification" notice on the head of its weekly field report from Gaza. It noted that its January 6 field report had stated that an IDF shell hit outside the school, causing fatalities. Its January 7 field report, however, stated that the shell hit the school. "The humanitarian coordinator would like to clarify that the shelling, and all of the fatalities, took place outside rather than inside the school," the original field report stated. It was publicized in the aftermath of a Toronto Globe and Mail article that reported that the IDF had not attacked the school. When quizzed by The Jerusalem Post with respect to statements regarding the incidents made by OCHA and UNRWA in the past month attacking Israel for the incident, both organizations denied that they had ever verbally accused Israel of hitting the school. UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness said that what had outraged the UN was the false allegations that Hamas gunmen had been inside the school. UNRWA denied that allegation, he said. He added that the Post and other media outlets had misquoted him when they printed comments he made in the aftermath of the attack that appeared to indicate the school had been hit. Israeli defense officials noted that in two previous reports, the UN had stated that the IDF attack had been against the school and not outside the school. In addition, the defense officials said it was not certain that the number of casualties reported by the UN, 43, was accurate and that Military Intelligence had noticed Hamas attempts to cover up the identity of those killed in the strike. "We know of at least three terrorists among the dead," one official said. "It is clear that there were more people, killed but Hamas has been covering up their identities."

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