UN Blames Israeli Army for Gaza War Attacks

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Agence France Presse

UN Blames Israeli Army for Gaza War Attacks

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Palestinian civilians and medics run to safety as white phosphorus from an Israeli shell rains down on a UN school in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza Strip on January 17. (AFP/File/Mohammed Abed)

UNITED NATIONS - A United Nations inquiry Tuesday blamed Israel for six serious attacks on UN buildings during its Gaza offensive, drawing fury from Israeli officials who accused the UN body of bias.

The report was drawn up by an independent commission of inquiry set up to investigate nine cases in which UN buildings in the impoverished Gaza Strip were damaged by bombardments or arms fire during the three-week war.

The findings present the latest criticism of Israel over the war it launched against the Hamas-run territory on December 27 in response to ongoing rocket fire from Gaza militants. More than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died.

"In six of the nine incidents, the board concluded that the death, injuries and damage involved were caused by military actions, using munitions launched or dropped from the air or fired from the ground, by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)," the report said.

A seventh less serious incident was also blamed on Israeli light arm fire during the 22-day December-January offensive, while the eighth was attributed to a Palestinian faction, probably Hamas.

The probe by the United Nations Headquarters Board of Inquiry however could not determine who was to blame for the ninth incident.

The report accused Israel of failing to protect UN buildings and the civilians inside them, and recommended that the United Nations seek damages.

But Israeli officials, reacting even before the report was published, accused the United Nations of being misleading.

"The state of 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 foreign ministry said in a statement early Tuesday.

"The committee has preferred the claims of Hamas, a murderous terror organization, and by doing so has misled the world."

The headquarters for the UN Palestinian relief organization (UNRWA) was among the UN buildings damaged along with several UN-run schools during the offensive.

"IDF actions involved varying degrees of negligence or recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and to the safety of United Nations staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries and extensive physical damage and loss of property," the report said.

And it concluded "that no military activity was carried out from within the United Nations premises in any of the incidents."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon told a press conference: "I intend to seek reparations for damages incurred by the UN."

And he also countered the Israeli criticisms highlighting the "independent nature" of the inquiry, adding: "I have no authority to alter or to change the contents of the report."

The inquiry also demanded that UN leaders urge the Jewish state to formally retract allegations that Palestinians had fired from two UN-run buildings.

"The board recommended that the United Nations should seek formal acknowledgement by the government of Israel that its public statements alleging that Palestinians fired from within the UNRWA Jabalia school on 6 January and from within the UNRWA Field Office compound on 15 January were untrue and are regretted," the report said.

The Israeli foreign ministry hit back that even though Israel had cooperated fully with the committee and presented it with various intelligence material, "none of this information is reflected in the report."

"The report completely ignores the eight years of attacks against Israel that preceded the decision to initiate the operation, and ignores the difficult circumstances on the ground as dictated by Hamas and its methods of armed operation" from within heavily populated civilian areas, it said.

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