UN report: Israel responsible for Gaza shelter attacks

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - A United Nations inquiry on Monday blamed the Israeli military 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 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," he added as he presented a summary of the report.

The UN chief 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 called on 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 Gaza war ended with a 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.

Ban said he had set up an ad hoc group of senior UN officials to advise him on possible future courses of action.

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, 2014 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, in all seven cases investigated by the Board of Inquiry when our schools were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, the hit was attributable to the IDF," the Israeli defence forces, said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.