UN Report: Israel Responsible for Hits on 7 Gaza Facilities During War

Report also finds that three UN facilities were used by Palestinian militants for storing weapons, and shooting rockets and mortar shells.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon (C) visits a UN-run school where Palestinians, whose houses were destroyed during a seven-week Israeli offensive, take refuge in Gaza City October 14, 2014.
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon (C) visits a UN-run school where Palestinians, whose houses were destroyed during a seven-week Israeli offensive, take refuge in Gaza City October 14, 2014.Credit: Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

A United Nations board of inquiry has found that Israel was responsible for the damage to seven UN facilities in the Gaza Strip over the course of Operation Protective Edge last summer, according to an abstract of its report released Monday by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Aftermath of Israeli air strike at a United Nations-run school, where displaced Palestinians take refuge, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 3, 2014.Credit: Reuters

The report also found that three UN facilities were used by Palestinian militant groups for storing weapons, and for shooting rockets and mortar shells.

Ban announced in November 2014 that an "internal and independent" board of inquiry would be established to probe the damage caused to various UN installations in Gaza over the course of the war, as well as into the instances in which weapons were found in these facilities. The board investigated 10 incidents in all.

Prior to the formation of the board, Israel lobbied Ban and his associates in an effort to delay the establishment of the investigative committee on grounds that Israel’s military prosecutors and Military Police are in the midst of their own inquiries into Operation Protective Edge.

The inquiry was headed by retired general Patrick Cammaert, a former senior officer in the Dutch military who later served as the commander of UN forces in the Congo and as Ban’s military adviser. The other four other members are: Maria Vicien-Milburn of Argentina, who serves as legal adviser to UNESCO; Lee O’Brien of the United States, a diplomat who is a senior official in the diplomatic department of the UN Secretariat in New York; Pierre Lemelin, a Canadian professor and expert in international law; and K.C. Reddy of India, a former UN security officer.

Prior to the formation of the board, Israel lobbied Ban and his associates in an effort to delay the establishment of the investigative committee on grounds that Israel’s military prosecutors and Military Police are in the midst of their own inquiries into Operation Protective Edge.

The board submitted its finding to the UN secretary general on February 5, but it was subject to numerous deliberations over the course of the last few months. The full report is 207 pages and is considered "top-secret." The abstract released on Monday is a 27-page unclassified document.

Ban sent a letter to the Security Council members, sharing his stance regarding the committee's findings, in which he applauded Israel for its cooperation with the committee. He also praised Israel for opening investigations into a series of incidents that occurred during the Gaza war, including those in which UN facilities were hit.

In contrast, he issued criticism of the Palestinian Authority to that regard, noting that he hopes that Ramallah will also probe possible war crimes on the Palestinians side. "Swift investigations must be undertaken, in accordance with the international standards," Ban wrote.

In his letter, Ban deplored the Israeli fire that hit the UN facilities, which killed a total of 44 Palestinian civilians and wounded 227 others who took shelter there. "United Nations premises are inviolable and should be places of safety, particularly in a situation of armed conflict," Ban wrote. "I will work with all concerned and spare no effort to ensure that such incidents will never be repeated."

Ban also said that he was "dismayed" by the discovery that Palestinian militant groups used the UN facilities to store weapons, thereby putting civilians at risk.

"The fact that they were used by those involved in the fighting to store their weaponry and, in two cases, probably to fire from, is unacceptable," Ban wrote. "It serves to undermine the confidence that all concerned should have that United Nations premises are civilian objects and may therefore not be made the object of attack. I am determined to take the necessary steps towards ensuring that there is no repetition of any such incident in that future, whether in times of armed conflict or not."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon released a statement saying Israel would study the report's findings and would keep working on the subject with the UN secretary general.

"This cooperation demonstrates once again that, when asked to assist in a professional and unbiased inquiry, Israel responds in a collaborative, open and forthcoming manner, notwithstanding some reservations it may have concerning certain aspects of the process and as well as some of the report's findings and conclusions," the statement said.

He added that the UN report clearly shows that militant groups used UN facilities in Gaza, and noted Israel is prepared to work with UNRWA to prevent such use in the future. This activity is a "blatant violation of international law" which "gravely endangers civilians, including UN staff," the statement said.

The UN spokesman said that all seven incident mentioned in the report, in which UN facilities were hit, have been examined by Israeli authorities and that criminal proceedings have been launched when relevant. "Israel makes every effort to avoid harm to sensitive sites," he said.

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