A United Nations inquiry blamed the Israeli military on Monday for seven attacks on UN schools in Gaza that were used as shelters during the 2014 war.
“I deplore the fact that at least 44 Palestinians were killed as a result of Israeli actions and at least 227 injured at United Nations premises being used as emergency shelters,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a letter to the UN Security Council.
“It is a matter of the utmost gravity that those who looked to them for protection and who sought and were granted shelter there had their hopes and trust denied.”
The UN chief, in presenting a summary of the report, vowed to “spare no effort to ensure that such incidents will never be repeated.”
The board of inquiry investigated the attacks on the schools run by the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA from July 8 to August 26 last year, but it also shed light on the discovery of weapons caches at three schools.
The schools were vacant at the time but Ban noted that “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.”
The UN chief urged Palestinian authorities to investigate.
Israel has repeatedly maintained that Hamas militants were using civilians as human shields and UN premises as storage sites for weapons during the 50-day war.
In response to the report, Israel’s foreign ministry said criminal investigations have been launched against those linked to the attacks on shelters.
“Israel makes every effort to avoid harm to sensitive sites, in the face of terrorist groups who are committed not only to targeting Israeli civilians but also to using Palestinian civilians and UN facilities as shields for their terrorist activities,” said foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon.
The Israeli military said its prosecutors have filed charges against three soldiers for alleged theft from Palestinians in Gaza, the first indictments served over the July-August warfare.
The army said approximately 120 other investigations were still open.
The Gaza war ended with an Egyptian-brokered truce after about 2,200 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq declined to comment on whether the findings of the report would be taken up by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which the Palestinians have joined.
“It’s not our business to determine what cases the international court takes up,” he said.
Hamas said the report was important since it proved Israeli “war crimes against Palestinian civilians in the (UNRWA) shelters.”
“We call on the world to send the murderous occupation (Israel) leaders to international courts, and we call on the (Palestinian) Authority to investigate this report and to persecute the occupation (Israel) in international courts,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP.
The Islamist movement that rules Gaza de facto also rejected the notion that three facilities were used as weapon caches.
“We deny having any information about any weapons in the three UNRWA schools, which were empty from refugees, according to the report,” Abu Zuhri said.
Ban said he had set up an ad hoc group of senior UN officials to advise him on possible future courses of action.
School GPS coordinates given
The board of inquiry confirmed that UNRWA officials sent twice-daily communications to the Israeli military with precise GPS coordinates of the schools being used as emergency shelters.
The report gave specific details of the projectiles used such as tank shells and high explosive mortars, and included explanations from the Israeli military.
A missile fired by Israeli forces on August 3 that hit a school in Rafah, killing 15 people, was aimed at a motorcycle carrying three militants from Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the report said.
“By the time it became apparent that the strike would coincide with the motorcycle passing by the school gate, it had no longer been possible to divert the missile,” the report quoted the Israeli government as saying.
UNRWA welcomed the findings of the report and said they were in line with its version of the facts.
“The inquiry found that despite numerous notifications to the Israeli army of the precise GPS coordinates of the schools and numerous notifications about the presence of displaced people… the hit was attributable to the IDF,” the Israeli defense forces, said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.
Gunness also stressed that the inquiry’s findings were “fully consistent with the statements made by UNRWA that we did not hand any weapons over to Hamas.”