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Ear to the Ground

Israel and U.N. Have Been Differing Over Gaza Operations for Years

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Posted on Aug 9, 2014

    IDF artillery forces fire in the Gaza Strip as part of Operation Protective Edge. Photo by Israel Defense Forces (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“A good number of lessons have not been learned,” said U.N. lawyer Larry Johnson, who formerly led an inquiry into fatal Israeli military bombings of United Nations facilities in Gaza during a 2009 operation.

The New York Times reports that the inquiry board, which was appointed by the United Nations secretary-general, found Israel responsible for seven of the nine incidents examined. Hamas, the dominant militant group in Gaza, was blamed for one and the board’s findings were inconclusive in another.

In one incident, Israel said fighters from Gaza had been shooting from inside a booby-trapped U.N. school. The mortar rounds it fired in response exploded in front of the school, wounding seven people and killing many more. The board said Israel was informed of the school’s exact location and that neither booby traps nor evidence suggesting militants had used the school for operations were found. It concluded that Israel “breached the inviolability of United Nations premises.” Israel rejected the findings but paid what The New York Times described as an “unusual” $10.5 million as compensation.

The Times reported Friday that the board’s recommendations “for averting a recurrence” of such tragedies “received little attention, and its findings were largely forgotten. But they revealed a pattern similar to that of the Gaza fighting of the past month, when more than 100 United Nations buildings were damaged and 11 staff members killed.

“The Israeli military, officially known as the Israel Defense Forces, has rejected most criticism of its latest actions in Gaza, asserting that if its soldiers fired weapons near United Nations buildings, they were aiming at militants,” according to the Times.

The newspaper reports that senior U.N. officials repeatedly stated during the latest conflict that they informed Israeli authorities of the precise locations of United Nations facilities where civilians were sheltered. On three of those occasions its schools were struck and people were wounded and killed.

Johnson now teaches at Columbia Law School. The Times reports he said he was struck by two parallels between 2009 and now. “The Israeli military continues to use mortars, which are imprecise weapons,” the paper wrote. “[S]o if a mortar round is aimed at militants outside a school, [Johnson] said, ‘there’s a good chance it will hit a school.’

“The second parallel, he said, was an apparent ‘disconnect between the information provided by the U.N.—the coordinates of U.N. facilities—and the actual decision on the ground by the Israeli military.’ ”

Read more here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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