New York [AFP]
A United Nations inquiry has 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 on Monday.
‘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,’ Ban 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 2200 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed.
Land grab continues
Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have invited tenders for the construction of 77 homes in settlement neighbourhoods of annexed east Jerusalem, activist group Peace Now says.
Peace Now spokeswoman Hagit Ofran said it was the first such announcement in east Jerusalem since a March 17 general election win by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.
The watchdog said 36 of them were being offered in Neve Yaakov and another 41 in neighbouring Pisgat Zeev.
Both are located at the northern edge of east Jerusalem.
Peace Now said the tenders could be seen as a sign of the future inclinations of the coalition government that Netanyahu is currently putting together.
The day before the election, Netanyahu vowed that if re-elected he would build thousands of settler homes in Arab east Jerusalem to prevent future concessions to the Palestinians.
Israel seized east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.
The Jewish state refers to both halves of the city as its ‘united, undivided capital’ and does not see construction in the eastern sector as settlement building.
The Palestinians want the eastern sector of the city as the capital of their future state, but successive Israeli leaders have vowed that Jerusalem will never again be divided.
‘I won’t let that happen. My friends and I in Likud will preserve the unity of Jerusalem,’ Netanyahu said during a March 16 visit to the contentious settlement neighbourhood of Har Homa.
‘We will continue to build in Jerusalem, we will add thousands of housing units, and in the face of all the (international) pressure, we will persist and continue to develop our eternal capital.’