IDF to Probe Mortar Attack on UNRWA School in Gaza War

Investigation, one of six newly announced, will assess whether attack in which 20 civilians died involved criminal wrongdoing on the army’s part.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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At the UNRWA-operated Abu Haseen school in northern Gaza during the 2014 war between Hamas and its allies and Israel, July 30, 2014.
At the UNRWA-operated Abu Haseen school in northern Gaza during the 2014 war between Hamas and its allies and Israel, July 30, 2014.Credit: AFP
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The military police will launch six more investigations into incidents from last summer’s war in Gaza, including an attack on an UNRWA school in Jabalya that sparked international protest, the Military Advocate General announced on Thursday.

Twenty people were killed and dozens injured in the attack on the United Nations facility on July 30 last year. According to the army’s report on the incident, Israel Defense Forces soldiers operating near the school were fired upon. The army returned fire, apparently with mortars, but at the time it was not known whether these mortars hit the facility. An investigation subsequently showed that the attack had come from the IDF, and the concern arose, according to the MAG, that the army did not fire according to the rules of engagement.

The military police is already investigating other incidents that occurred during Operation Protective Edge, including the bombardment of the Abu Jama’e family home in Khan Yunis, in which 27 Palestinians were killed; the killing of four children by Israel Air Force fire on a Gaza beach; and the strike on an UNRWA school in Beit Hanun, which killed 15 Palestinians.

Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni also ordered probes into claims that Palestinian prisoners were beaten in Hiza’a and Rafah. According to reports, four Palestinians were beaten for no reason after they were arrested and while handcuffed and blindfolded.

Another investigation is to be opened into a complaint by a resident of Dir al-Balah that IDF soldiers looted his home after he fled with his family. The military police will also investigate another claim of looting in the home of a Khan Yunis resident who fled with his family during the fighting.

So far, 19 investigations of the army’s actions during Operation Protective Edge – two of which involved suspicion of looting – have been closed for lack of evidence. However, in another case the MAG determined that indictments should be served, pending a hearing, against Golani Brigade soldiers suspected of looting in the Shujaiyeh neighborhood, in eastern Gaza City.

The MAG also said yesterday that no criminal wrongdoing was found in eight other cases investigated by a General Staff panel, headed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Eitan.

One major incident in which the army decided there was no suspicion of criminal wrongdoing was the bombardment of the Al-Salak family home in the Shujaiyeh market, in which more than 30 people were killed. The IDF claimed it had returned mortar fire to the neighborhood, after mortars were fired from the area toward soldiers.

According to the military investigation, it could be concluded that one of the IDF mortars struck the roof and led to the deaths of seven members of the Salak family. Eighteen minutes later, as fire continued to come from the neighborhood, the IDF fired 10 mortars, two of which struck people gathered near the house, and apparently led to the deaths of more civilians. However, the MAG statement said, “The possibility was not ruled out that the civilians were struck during the incident as a result of misfire by Palestinian organizations, in light of the extent of heavy mortar fire from them within this area.”

The MAG said a number of precautions had been taken, and that fire had been “measured and limited.” Efroni found that “although in the end a tragic result was caused by the action, it does not in retrospect project on its legality.”

Other cases in which it was decided not to launch investigations included an attack on the Abu Eita house at Tel a-Za’atar, in which five civilians were killed, and an attack by a fighter plane on Kafr al-Zuweida, in which five members of one family were killed. In the latter case, it emerged that a technical failure had caused one of the bombs dropped by the aircraft to go off course and hit the family house, instead of a warehouse for weapons about 100 meters away. One of the people killed in that attack was an Islamic Jihad operative.

The military prosecution also decided there was no suspicion of criminal wrongdoing in an IDF artillery strike on a school in Bureij and an UNRWA school in Nuseirat, where, according to the army, there were no Palestinian casualties. The army conceded, though, that an IDF shell hit the school wall during exchanges of fire with armed militants. Master Sgt. Guy Levi was killed and another soldier wounded in that incident.

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