By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
UNITED NATIONS, May 5 -- A United Nations inquiry into the Gaza conflict earlier this year concluded that Israel intentionally struck a U.N.-run elementary school, killing three young men seeking shelter from the fighting, according to a summary released Tuesday.
The incident was one of eight in which the Israel Defense Forces fired on U.N. personnel or facilities that drew scrutiny from a three-member U.N. board of inquiry. The board found that Israel had repeatedly breached the inviolability of U.N. premises and that, in attacking another elementary school, it exhibited "reckless disregard for the lives and safety" of civilians. Two children were killed and 13 others injured in that attack.
The board also accused Hamas or another Palestinian faction of firing a Qassam-type rocket at an unoccupied World Food Program warehouse on the eastern edge of the Gaza Strip.
There was no evidence, the board said, that Palestinian militants had used U.N. facilities to launch military attacks against Israeli troops.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he planned to press for compensation for the damage to U.N. property, which amounted to more than $11 million. But he rejected the board's recommendation to expand the investigation into Palestinian and Israeli excesses during the conflict and to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes.
"I would emphasize that a board of inquiry is not a judicial body or court of law," said Ban, who released a 27-page summary of the 184-page report. "It does not make legal findings and does not consider questions of legal liability."
Ban said the United Nations and Israel would begin discussions to determine how they can improve their lines of communication to avoid such incidents.
An Israeli spokeswoman, Mirit Cohen, welcomed Ban's assurances that the matter was largely closed. But she accused the U.N. board of producing a "tendentious, patently biased" report, pointing to a recent Israeli military inquiry into the incidents as demonstrating that Israel had not targeted the United Nations. "The findings of these inquiries were published two weeks ago and proved beyond doubt that the IDF did not intentionally fire at the U.N. installations," she said.
The board said it had sought to determine whether the three young men killed by an Israeli airstrike at the Asma elementary school in Gaza City were engaged in military activities. It concluded that, "on balance, it is more probable that they were going out to use the toilets" when they were killed.
The board called on Israel to publicly retract assertions that Palestinians had fired from within the premises of a U.N.-run school and a U.N. relief office. Israeli officials said they had already done so in their military inquiry.