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IDF Says it Was Not Responsible for UNRWA School Deaths

IDF confirms firing a mortar round into UNRWA school in Gaza, but says the school was empty at the time.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 7/28/2014, 1:15 AM

UNRWA HQ in Gaza
UNRWA HQ in Gaza
Flash 90

The IDF on Sunday confirmed firing a mortar round into a Gaza UN shelter where 15 people died on Thursday, but denied killing anyone at the site, according to AFP.

Briefing journalists on the findings of an internal military enquiry into the incident at a UN school in Beit Hanoun, spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said that terrorists "in the vicinity" of the school fired mortar rounds and anti-tank rockets at Israeli forces.

The army responded with mortar fire, sending a stray round into the compound.

"A single errant mortar (round) landed in the courtyard of the school," Lerner was quoted as having said.

"The courtyard was completely empty" at the time of the incident, he added.

"We reject the claims that were made by various officials immediately following the incident, that people were killed in the school premises as a result of (Israeli army) operational activity," Lerner said, according to AFP.

Following Thursday’s incident, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which runs the school laid blame for the civilian deaths on the IDF, claiming it never received approval from the IDF for an evacuation from the facility.

Multiple IDF sources later rejected UNRWA’s claims and characterized them as outright falsehoods.

“For two days we were trying to move people out of that school in particular and the Beit Hanoun area in general,” said an IDF official who was involved in the interactions between the IDF, UNRWA, and International Red Cross (ICRC) leading up to the incident.

An official IDF statement had said that “the IDF authorized a humanitarian time window for evacuation between 10:00-14:00 IDT earlier today. Hamas prevented the civilians from leaving it and once again used their infrastructure and international symbols as human shields. In the course of the afternoon, several rockets launched by Hamas from within the Gaza Strip landed in the Beit Hanoun area.”

An AFP photographer who went to the scene saw blood spattered on the ground and Gaza emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said 15 people died in the blast and at least another 200 people were injured.

"Many have been killed -- including women and children," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement, adding that he was "appalled".

Lerner suggested the victims may have been hit in fighting raging elsewhere and "brought to the compound after injury" for first aid or shelter.

Hamas has openly boasted about the "success" of its strategy of using civilians as human shields during Operation Protective Edge, and the IDF has published extensive evidence of the practice.

By contrast, the IDF has dropped leaflets, sent phone messages, and issued general warnings to all civilians within range of upcoming airstrikes to prevent further harm.