Ed Pilkington in New York and Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem–
Inquiry finds Israel responsible for deaths, injuries and damage to UN buildings
A UN inquiry accused the Israeli military today of “negligence or recklessness” in its conduct of the war in Gaza.
The summary of the UN report, commissioned by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, censured the Israeli government for causing death, injuries and damage to UN property in seven incidents involving action by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).
It said: “The board concluded that 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.”
However, in a blow to human rights campaigners, Ban said there would be no further investigation despite the report calling for a full impartial inquiry.
Although the full, 184-page findings of the UN board of inquiry will not be made public, the 27-page summary emphasised that UN premises are inviolable, and that inviolability cannot be set aside by the demands of military expediency.
“UN personnel and all civilians within UN premises, as well as civilians in the immediate vicinity of those premises, are to be protected in accordance with the rules and principles of international humanitarian law,” the summary says.
Among the incidents for which the Israeli government is held responsible are:
• The deaths of three young men killed by a single IDF missile strike at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Asma school in Gaza City on 5 January;
• The firing of heavy IDF mortar rounds into the UNRWA Jabalia school on 6 January, injuring seven people sheltering in the school and killing up to 40 people in the immediate vicinity;
• Aerial bombing of the UNRWA Bureij health centre on the same day causing the death of a patient and serious injuries to two others;
• Artillery firing by the IDF into the UNRWA field office compound in Gaza city on 15 January that in turn caused high explosive shells to explode within the compound causing injuries and considerable damage to the buildings. The summary notes that it disrupted the UN’s humanitarian operations in Gaza;
• Artillery firing by the IDF into the UNRWA Beit Lahia school on 17 January, causing the deaths of two children
• Aerial bombing by the IDF of the Unesco compound on 29 December causing damage to UN buildings and vehicles.
In his accompanying letter to the summary, Ban noted that the Israeli government had significant reservations and objections to the document. He said he was reviewing the inquiry boards recommendations “with a view to determining what courses of action, if any, I should take”.
Those recommendations include demanding from the Israeli government that it retract earlier claims that Palestinians had been firing at the IDF from within UN premises, and that the UN should pursue Israel for reparations and reimbursement for all expenses incurred. Those reparations would cover the death or injury of UN personnel or third parties, and the repair of UN property.
Israel had dismissed the report, given to an Israeli foreign ministry official, as “tendentious” and “patently biased”.
The UN investigation is the first into the war, and looked only at deaths, injuries and damage caused at UN sites in Gaza during the three-week conflict.
The document was compiled by a board of inquiry – a team of four led by Ian Martin, a Briton who is a former head of Amnesty International and a former UN special envoy to East Timor and Nepal.
Israel’s foreign ministry attempted to pre-empt the report today, saying the Israeli military had already investigated its own conduct during the war and “proved beyond doubt” that it did not fire intentionally at UN buildings. It dismissed the UN inquiry.
“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.
It said the inquiry had “preferred the claims of Hamas, a murderous terror organisation, and by doing so has misled the world”.
International human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have accused Israel’s military and Palestinian militant groups of serious violations of international law and possible war crimes during the conflict.
The UN board of inquiry report has limited scope: it is confined to investigating death or injuries or damage at UN buildings or during UN operations. The UN human rights council is also to dispatch a fact-finding mission to Gaza, but Israel has already suggested it will not co-operate, saying the council is biased.
Source: Guardian UK