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UNRWA responds to Israel TV's Gaza war claims

Oct. 29, 2012 1:24 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 2, 2012 10:54 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The UN agency for Palestinian refugees issued a response this week to an Israeli TV channel's claim that Palestinian militants had used UNRWA facilities to fire rockets at Israel during its war on Gaza.

During a recent interview, a reporter from Israel's Channel Two News claimed that during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9, Hamas militants had been operating from inside UNRWA installations and attempting to fire rockets at Israel.

The popular Israeli news channel did not provide any evidence to substantiate the claims made by its reporter.

"We heard this misinformation during the war when there was shelling on and around the Agency’s schools and our main warehouse in Gaza," UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a response that was published by Israel's Channel Two News.

"There has never been any evidence produced to show that during the Gaza war militants were firing rockets into Israel from UNRWA installations," he added.

Channel Two News said its publication of UNRWA's response to did not amount to a retraction, saying UNRWA's statement to that effect was "misleading".

'Battle of narratives'

But Gunness notes that the report's amendment is the third of its kind by major news organizations in the last several months.

"I want all journalists to know that these falsehoods will be confronted and that shoddy journalism will be exposed," he told Ma'an.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ABC, was forced last week to issue an apology, correction, and clarification to a report about UNRWA after a complaint from the Australian Labor Member of Parliament for Fremantle, Melissa Parke, UNRWA said.

The ABC broadcast contained factual errors and unsubstantiated claims about UNRWA’s neutrality, which were made by a far-right ideologue, UNRWA said.

The agency said ABC admitted that the report "did not meet the requirements" of its Code of Practice and expressed its "regrets for this lapse in standards."

"This was an outrageous attack on UNRWA, a neutral UN agency that does essential human development and humanitarian work with some of the most disadvantaged, in one of the world's most unstable regions," Parke said.

Chris Gunness called the retractions a "decisive victory in the battle of narratives" concerning misinformation about the Gaza war.

Israel's military offensive on the Gaza Strip destroyed 18 schools and damaged over 280, a report by human rights agencies said a year after the war.

Three teachers and 86 children registered with UNRWA were killed in Operation Cast Lead, a three week offensive on the Gaza Strip which left nearly 1,400 Palestinians dead, including 300 children.

At the height of the war, nearly 60,000 people took refuge in UN facilities, including UNRWA schools. Despite having been given the GPS coordinates for all UN installations in Gaza, Israeli forces launched airstrikes on UN facilities, including the use of white phosphorous.

According to UN figures, Israel's military destroyed over 3,500 residential homes and made 20,000 people homeless during the 22-day assault.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed "outrage" in 2009 after Israeli shelling in and around UNRWA schools.

Ehud Barak, Israeli Defense Minister during the conflict, said the shelling of an UNRWA warehouse was a "grave mistake."
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