The United Nations on Monday released a "list of shame" of children's rights violators and did not include Israel, despite an outcry over the death of more than 500 children during the Gaza war last year.
Rights groups had called on Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to add Israel to the list, and there was much debate among U.N. agencies before the final decision, which rests with the U.N. chief.
Ban decided that last year's list would remain unchanged but said he was "deeply alarmed" by the "grave violations suffered by children as a result of Israeli military operations in 2014."
"The unprecedented and unacceptable scale of the impact on children in 2014 raises grave concerns about Israel's compliance with international humanitarian law, notably the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in attack and respect for international human rights law, particularly in relation to excessive use of force," he said.
He cited a "dramatic increase" in the number of children killed in Israel and in the Palestinian territories in 2014.
U.N. officials said the U.N. special envoy for children in armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui, recommended that both Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, be placed on the report's list of parties that recruit, use, kill, maim or commit acts of sexual violence against children.
But the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to the Associated Press because the recommendation was not public, said there were differences of opinion among those on the ground on whether Israel and Hamas should be listed — a key reason they were not.
At least 561 children (557 Palestinian, four Israeli) were killed and 4,271 injured (4,249 Palestinian and 22 Israeli) in Israeli and the Palestinian territories last year. U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric stressed that "the report is more than the list" and lays out concerns about the plight of children in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor welcomed the decision, saying Ban "was right not to submit to the dictates of the terrorist organizations and the Arab states in his decision not to include Israel in this shameful list, together with organizations like [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant], Al-Qaeda and the Taliban."
The list of children's rights violators was released just two months after a U.N. inquiry found that the Israeli military was responsible for seven attacks on U.N. schools in Gaza that were used as shelters during the 2014 war.
The board of inquiry confirmed that U.N. officials working with Palestinian refugees sent twice-daily communications to the Israeli military with precise GPS coordinates of the schools being used as emergency shelters.
The United Nations is discussing measures to address the findings of the U.N. inquiry, and it remains an open question whether they will be used in a possible war crimes case against Israel.
The 50-day conflict in Gaza last year killed 539 children and injured 2,956, most of them Palestinians now struggling with trauma and lifelong disabilities, according to the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF.
The report, which covers at least 23 situations, noted the five deadliest conflicts for children. It said 710 children were killed in Afghanistan, 679 in Iraq, 557 in the Palestinian territories, 368 in Syria and 197 in Darfur in Sudan.
The U.N. report cites groups or armed forces that "recruit or use children, kill or maim children, commit rape and other forms of sexual violence against children or engage in attacks on schools and/or hospitals."
Armed groups listed were involved in conflicts in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Colombia, Nigeria and Philippines.
Countries whose national or regional armed forces were included on the list were Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Myanmar and Yemen.