Khalil Hamra / AP

UN: Israeli actions killed 44 Palestinians at UN shelters

UN report found Israeli airstrikes hit shelters during Gaza war, and Palestinians likely fired weapons from two schools

A United Nations inquiry has found that at least 44 Palestinians were killed and at least 227 injured by "Israeli actions," including direct mortar strikes, while sheltering at U.N. locations during last year's Gaza war.

The independent board of inquiry also found that Palestinian armed groups hid weapons at three empty U.N. schools in Gaza, and that in two cases Palestinian fighters probably fired from the schools.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday that he deplores the deaths, calling U.N. locations "inviolable." Ban also said the Palestinian fighters' use of them was unacceptable.

The 2014 war was the most devastating for Gaza's 1.8 million people, killing more than 2,200 Palestinians, a majority of them civilians, according to U.N. figures. Seventy-two people were killed on the Israeli side, including 66 soldiers.

In one case, the new inquiry says, a U.N. girls' school was hit by 88 mortar rounds fired by the Israeli military. In another case, a girls’ school was hit by direct fire from the Israelis with an anti-tank projectile. A third girls' school was hit by an Israeli missile.

Part of a co-ed college was damaged by a projectile fired by an Israeli tank.

On July 30 Israeli strikes tore through the walls of the Jabalia Elementary girls' school, which was crowded with sleeping war refugees when artillery shells hit before daybreak, turning a classroom into a scene of bloodied clothing, bedding and debris. The inquiry says 17 or 18 people were killed, including a U.N. staff member and two of his sons.

"No prior warning had been given by the government of Israel of the firing of 155 MM high explosive projectiles on, or in the surrounding area of the school," the inquiry says.

A spokesman for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said in a statement, "The inquiry found that despite numerous notifications to the Israeli army of the precise GPS coordinates of the schools and numerous notifications about the presence of displaced people, in all seven cases investigated by the Board of Inquiry when our schools were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, the hit was attributable to the IDF [Israel Defense Forces]."

Spokesman Chris Gunness added, "In none of the schools which were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, were weapons discovered or fired from."

The inquiry also found weak security at the U.N. schools where weapons were found. It said in two cases that a "Palestinian armed group" likely fired from two of the schools.

The U.N. released its summary of the inquiry, which covered 10 incidents, but said the full 207-page report is private. Ban's statement stressed that the board of inquiry "does not make legal findings" and was not tasked with addressing the wider issues of the Gaza war.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in a written statement, "All of the incidents attributed by the report to Israel have already been subject to thorough examinations, and criminal investigations have been launched where relevant. ... Israel makes every effort to avoid harm to sensitive sites."

"The executive summary of the report clearly documents the exploitation by terrorist organizations of U.N. facilities in the Gaza Strip," Nashon’s statement added.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas, the armed group that rules Gaza, said the U.N. report was a "clear condemnation" of Israel. On reports that fighters used U.N. schools to store weapons he said: "Hamas has no information about this."

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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