World

Israeli Military to Investigate Deadly Attack on Gaza UN School

Gaza Strip
Palestinians walk near the ruins of houses that witnesses said were destroyed or damaged by Israeli shelling during a 50-day war last summer, on a winter day east of Gaza City February 20, 2015. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/REUTERS

The Israeli military yesterday announced that it was opening an investigation into the shelling of a UN school in the Gaza Strip last summer which, according to Palestinian accounts, left 21 Palestinians dead and more than 100 wounded, including women and children, during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge.

The chief military advocate general, Major General Danny Efroni, announced the investigation into the July 30 incident, in which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reportedly fired five tank shells at a UN school in the Jabalia refugee camp, which was housing over 3,000 Gazans who had fled the conflict.

Factual findings presented to the military advocate general “indicated the existence of grounds for a reasonable suspicion that the strike was not carried out in accordance with the rules and procedures applicable to IDF forces,” the statement read. “As a result, the MAG has ordered the opening of a criminal investigation into the incident.”

An IDF spokesperson yesterday confirmed that the investigation had been opened “in accordance with the IDF’s policy to ensure transparency with regard to the examination and investigation of exceptional incidents that allegedly occurred during Operation Protective Edge”.

Following the incident last July, the IDF claimed that there was “an exchange of fire”, specifically mortar fire, which took place “in the vicinity of the school”, suggesting that the military was provoked into a reaction and had targeted Palestinian militants.

However, the incident was roundly condemned by the international community. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack, saying that “nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children”. White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the targeting of a facility “housing innocent civilians who are fleeing violence” as “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible”.

Chris Gunness, spokesman of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), says that despite the announcement of the investigation, the incident still raises a number of questions given that the UN agency had notified the Israeli military multiple times about the location of the school and its inhabitants.

“We have always said that there should be transparency, investigations and full accountability for the attacks on education establishments in Gaza by all parties,” Gunness says. “The attack itself in Jabalia raises a lot of very problematic questions that need to be answered.”

“We notified the Israeli army on 28 separate occasions, giving them the precise GPS coordinates of the school in Jabalia and the fact that it was filling up with people who had been displaced,” he adds.

A New York Times investigation into the incident also revealed that the IDF “provided no evidence of [militant] activity and no explanation for the strike beyond saying that Palestinian militants were firing about 200 yards away”.

Other criminal cases that the IDF opened yesterday into the military’s conduct in Gaza included two alleged incidents of looting, and Palestinian claims that soldiers allegedly beat handcuffed and blindfolded detainees for no reason on three separate occasions.

Last December, the IDF launched an inquiry into the killing of four Palestinian children on a Gaza beach by an Israeli shell, the deaths of two Palestinian ambulance drivers, the killing of a Palestinian man holding a white flag, and another shelling on a UN school which killed 14 Palestinians. In last summer’s conflict, over 2,100 Palestinians - mostly civilians - were killed, according to Palestinian sources, and 72 Israelis - all but five soldiers - were killed, according to Israeli sources.