Israel on Thursday called out a United Nations aid agency for falsely claiming that the Israeli Defense Forces did not permit civilians to evacuate a Gaza school where 15 people were killed in an Israeli attack, reports the Washington Free Beacon.
The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) laid blame for the civilian deaths on the IDF, claiming it never received approval from the IDF for an evacuation from the facility.
UNRWA released a statement claiming, “UNRWA had been attempting to negotiate with the [IDF] a pause in the fighting during which they would guarantee a safe corridor to relocate staff and any displaced persons who chose to evacuate to a more secure location. Approval for that never came to UNRWA.”
Earlier, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness had similarly accused the IDF of preventing a civilian evacuation.
“Over the course of the day UNRWA tried 2 coodinate [sic] with the Israeli Army a window for civilians 2 leave & it was never granted,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness tweeted, following the strike.
Multiple IDF sources rejected UNRWA’s claims and characterized them as outright falsehoods when reached by the Washington Free Beacon.
“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.
The official continued, “This morning we sought a ceasefire in the area and a humanitarian evacuation of civilians, but Hamas refused—because they wanted to keep civilians in the area to protect their fighters who were firing on the IDF.”
The claim by Gunness and UNRWA that the IDF did not respond to their request to evacuate civilians, the source said, is “a flat-out complete and total lie,” the official told the Free Beacon.
When asked for further details about the incident, UNRWA claimed that its school in Beit Hanoun had been turned into “a battlefield” in recent days.
Many locals, including women and children, had sought shelter from the fighting in the school, believing it to be safe territory, according to UNRWA.
“This is the fourth time in the past four days that an UNRWA school has been struck by explosive projectiles,” UNRWA said.
An official IDF statement released to the Free Beacon 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.”
“From initial inquiries done about the incident, during the intense fighting in the area, militants opened fire at IDF soldiers from the school area,” the statement said.
“In order to eliminate the threat posed to their lives, they responded with fire toward the origins of the shooting,” it added.
“The UNRWA claims that Israel prevented the safe evacuation of the school in Beit Hanoun are unfounded,” the statement concluded.
The IDF said earlier Thursday it was investigating claims that the school was shelled.
UNRWA has made headlines in recent days after it was discovered that Hamas stored rockets in its schools in Gaza.
UNRWA found the rockets in one of its vacant schools a week ago. It found a second batch in a vacant school on Tuesday, but said in a statement that because staff were withdrawn quickly, they were "unable to confirm the precise number."
In both cases UNRWA said it "informed the relevant parties," but did not identify who had been contacted.
It was later reported that rather than destroying the rockets, UNRWA workers called Hamas to come remove them.
While UNRWA confirmed the existence of rockets in one of its schools last week, the organization refused an Israeli request to provide a picture of the weapons. A picture could have helped Israel show that Hamas uses civilian institutions to store weapons and launch attacks.
On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm over the finding of the rockets and directed the world body to deploy experts to deal with the situation