During the Cast Lead operation in Gaza, IDF tank fire near a United Nations school in Gaza was blamed for the deaths of dozens of civilians who had taken refuge in the building. The incident became one of the most highly publicized attacks in the war, and led to heavy international criticism.
Recent reports suggest that the incident was not accurately portrayed by senior U.N. officials. John Ging, the director of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, spoke to the Toronto Globe and Mail last week and agreed that no shell had actually struck the school building. Ging said he had never claimed that the school itself was hit, and he blamed Israel for confusion over where the strike took place.
Shortly after the alleged attack, Ging harshly criticized Israel for firing near the school, saying he had given the exact coordinates of the compound to the IDF. He charged that the IDF had failed to avoid hitting the building.
While admitting that Israeli fire had not hit the school compound, Ging insisted it made little difference. “Forty-one innocent people were killed in the street... The State of Israel still has to answer for that,” he said.
While many Israel news outlets reported that the strike had taken place near the school, several international media networks reported that the UN school building itself was hit. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs may have added to the confusion by releasing a report stating that Israeli fire “directly hit two UNRWA schools.”
Almost all reports said that the victims were primarily civilians who had fled to the school for shelter – a version of events cast into suspicion by the Globe and Mail report.
A teacher who was in the school at the time of the shelling reported that several people within the compound were injured, but that none were killed. Those killed were all outside in the street as the shells were fired, he said. Only three of those killed were students at the school, he added.
The teacher did not give his name, explaining that U.N .officials had told staff not to talk to the media.
The IDF responded to criticism over the attack by explaining that soldiers were simply responding to terrorist fire and did not mean to hit a civilian area.