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Middle East

UN blames Israel for dozens of Gaza school deaths

A UN inquiry has found that dozens of Palestinians were killed while seeking refuge at UN facilities during last year's Gaza conflict. The majority of the more than 2,200 people killed in the fighting were Palestinians.

The inquiry found that more than 40 Palestinians had been killed and more than 200 others wounded while sheltering at United Nations schools and other facilities in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014.

"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," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote in a cover letter for a summary of the inquiry's findings released Monday.

However, the inquiry did not just place blame on the Israelis. It also said that weapons had been found at three empty UN schools in Gaza, and that there was evidence to suggest that Palestinian militants had "probably" fired from them.

"I am dismayed that Palestinian militant groups would put United Nations schools at risk by using them to hide their arms. The three schools at which weaponry was found were empty at the time and were not being used as shelters," Ban wrote.

The summary cited the case of one UN girls school that was hit by 88 mortar rounds fired by the Israel Defense forces and another that was hit by an Israeli anti-tank round. In reference to yet another girls school, the report's summary said "no prior warning had been given by the government of Israel of the firing of 155 MM high explosive projectiles on, or in the surrounding area of the school."

Recommendations to be studied

Ban said he had appointed a committee of senior managers to examine recommendations made by the inquiry, which was headed by retired Dutch General Patrick Cammaert. Among these is a recommendation that the world body seek to obtain a commitment from the Israeli government that it will issue a warning "in the event that it plans any future military operation in proximity to United Nations premises."

"I will work with all concerned and spare no effort to ensure that such incidents will never be repeated," Ban said.

After the summary was released, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon issued a statement in which he noted that "all of the incidents attributed by the report to Israel have already been subject to thorough examinations, and criminal investigations have been launched where relevant."

There was no immediate reaction from the Palestinian side.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the summer of 2014, the majority of whom were civilians. At total of 72 people were killed on the Israeli side, including six civilians.

pfd/bw (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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