White House Blames Israel for UNRWA School Deaths
The United States said Thursday there was little doubt Israeli artillery was the source of a "totally indefensible" strike that killed 16 people at a UN school in Gaza.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest noted that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had said all available evidence pointed to Israeli artillery and that the Israeli government had acknowledged its forces were firing in the area in response to Hamas fire near the school.
“So while we underscore the importance of a full and prompt investigation of this tragic incident, as well as a shelling of other UN facilities and schools that have been hit, it does not appear there's a lot of doubt about whose artillery was involved in this incident," he said.
"That is why we have continued to urge Israeli military officials to live up to their high standards that they have set for the protection of innocent civilians. There is clearly more that can and should be done to ensure the safety of innocent civilians."
An estimated 3,300 civilians had taken shelter in the UN school in northern Gaza when it was hit Wednesday.
"The shelling of a UN facility that is housing innocent civilians who are fleeing violence is totally unacceptable and totally indefensible," Earnest said.
The attack had previously drawn a sharp condemnation by Ban who called it "reprehensible."
The IDF on Sunday confirmed firing a mortar round into a Gaza UN shelter where 15 people died last Thursday, but denied killing anyone at the site.
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 the 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.”