The UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun, after it was hit by artillery fire. July 24, 2014.
The UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun, after it was hit by artillery fire. July 24, 2014. Photo by AP
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An Israel Defense Forces investigation into the strike on a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip has revealed that the courtyard was struck by an Israeli mortar, but was empty of people at the time – thus undermining claims that at least 15 Palestinians were killed in the strike.

According to Palestinian reports, the courtyard of a UNRWA school in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun was hit on Thursday whilst it was full of refugee families, leaving at least 15 dead – mostly women and children. Soon after the incident, the IDF said it was unclear whether Israeli or Hamas shelling caused the strike, since both sides had exchanged fire in the area at the time.

The IDF released the findings of its investigation into the incident on Sunday morning. According to the inquiry, Palestinian militants opened fire from the area of the school, shooting morters and antitank missiles at Israeli forces. In response, the investigation reveals, the IDF decided to return fire with mortars.

According to the army, whose inquiry included investigations of the ground forces and video footage of the incident, “one of the mortars fell in the school’s courtyard whilst it was empty of people.”

“In light of the investigation’s findings, we have rejected claims of casualties in the school grounds as they were presented by various elements immediately after the incident took place,” the IDF Spokesman’s Unit announced Sunday morning. “The IDF regrets any harm to citizens who are not involved in the fighting but continually emphasizes that this occurs as a sad result of Hamas’ choice to use civilians as human shields.”

On Saturday, the commander of the Armored Corps’ 7th Brigade, Lt. Col. Idan Moreg, told Haaretz that one of his soldiers, Staff Sgt. Guy Levy, was killed as a result of Palestinian fire from the grounds of an UNRWA school in central Gaza. “They are firing from everywhere: from the school courtyard and from the mosque. Everywhere that constitutes a ‘sensitive site’ for us is a legitimate location for them,” he said.