Israel blasts UN report on Cast Lead

Report blames IDF for attacks on its facilities; Israel says probe ignored evidence against Hamas.

un headquarters fire 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
un headquarters fire 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
A United Nations investigation into attacks on UN compounds during Operation Cast Lead said on Tuesday the IDF was responsible for fatalities and damage in six cases, including a strike that killed people sheltering at a Gaza school. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released a 27-page investigative summary, citing security and privacy concerns in explaining why he would not release the full report. Investigators said the IDF was the "undisputed cause" of damage to three schools, a health center, an ambulance convoy, a UN field office and another UN compound, as well as the death and injury of Palestinians and UN employees. The report also said the use of burning white phosphorus by the IDF started a fire on UN property that spread to a warehouse containing food and medicine intended for Palestinian relief efforts. The investigative board placed blame on Hamas for damage to a UN warehouse struck by a Kassam rocket that fell short of its target on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza, and said it could not determine responsibility for an explosion at a school in Khan Yunis in the first, aerial-attack, phase of the war. The summary contained recommendations from the board, including an apology from Israel for its claims that Hamas elements were allowed to base operations within the UN's Jabalya school, prompting a strike that hit the street near the school grounds. Ban said he would follow up another recommendation that he seek compensation for damage to UN facilities and property but told reporters he would not pursue any further investigation into incidents that took place during Cast Lead. Ban said the government of Israel, despite disputing the findings of the report, had committed to meetings with UN officials about the recommendations. He also commended the Israelis in a letter released with the summary for cooperating with the investigation and facilitating entry to the Gaza Strip so that members of the board could interview Palestinians there. A statement issued by the Foreign Ministry said Israel "rejects the criticism in the committee's summary report and determines that in both spirit and language, the report is tendentious, patently biased, and ignores the facts presented to the committee. "The committee has preferred the claims of Hamas, a murderous terror organization, and by doing so has misled the world," the statement added. The Foreign Ministry added that an independent inquiry carried out by Israel, which was published two weeks ago, determined that the IDF did not intentionally fire on any of the UN facilities damaged during Operation Cast Lead. Spokesman Yigal Palmor dismissed the board of inquiry report as one-sided and said it was "full of flabbergasting fallacies." He told The Jerusalem Post the UN investigators had ignored evidence and documentation provided by the IDF and had failed to take into account allegations that Hamas had used civilian installations as shields, thereby bringing the battle into the vicinity of various UN compounds. "They completely ignored Hamas's role and did not investigate Hamas," Palmor said, echoing claims in the Foreign Ministry statement that Hamas had used violence and intimidation to keep Gazans from giving truthful testimony to investigators, thereby deceiving "the investigators, the UN and public opinion." Palmor also accused the investigators of ignoring intelligence materials including videos, aerial photographs, and eyewitness reports that were not referenced in the summary released by the Secretary-General's Office. "They received raw material, including pictures and physical evidence, and just decided to ignore it," Palmor said. Ban said in a letter distributed with the summary that 200 appendices and annexes of "relevant evidence" had been included with the 184-page report submitted to his office. Defense officials told the Post they presented members of the investigative board with evidence from IDF probes into the incidents involving UN facilities, including a strike that hit the street near the UN's Jabalya school on January 7. "The findings were unequivocal that the IDF did not deliberately target UN facilities," one official said, adding that more than 1,800 UN facilities, hospitals, clinics and other aid organization installations had been marked off-limits on military maps prior to the operation. Israel was initially accused of targeting the Jabalya school itself, a claim the UN backed until a report in Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper established that the shells struck outside the gates. The board of inquiry concluded that the IDF failed to maintain "adequate safety distance between whatever its target point may have been and the school," thereby breaching the "inviolability" of premises run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, known as UNRWA. "Such inviolability and immunity cannot be overridden by the demands of military expediency," the board concluded, according to the summary. "The board therefore found the government of Israel responsible for the injuries to members of families sheltering in the school and for damage to the UNRWA premises and property caused by its actions." Eight Israeli rights organizations issued a statement arguing that the government should cooperate with other ongoing probes into Operation Cast Lead, including one convened by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, led by South African judge Richard Goldstone. The group, which included The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Gisha, B'Tselem, Yesh Din, Physicians for Human Rights, Hamoked, The Public Committee against Torture, and Bimkom, also called on Israel to appoint its own "independent and objective investigative body" to head off cascading investigations by international groups. They added that based on data collected by Israeli rights organizations, "there are heavy suspicions that the open-fire regulations and the choice of targets for attack were illegal and caused the deaths of many Palestinian civilians and massive destruction in Gaza." Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.