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UN responds to Israel closing case into airstrike near UNRWA school during 2014 Gaza war

Aug. 26, 2016 7:57 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 28, 2016 7:27 P.M.)
Palestinian girls walk past rubble of buildings in the eastern Gaza City neighborhood of Shujayya destroyed during the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants 2014 (AFP/Thomas Coex, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The United Nations Friday responded in a statement to Israel’s announcement Wednesday that the military had exonerated itself from any wrongdoing in a missile attack near an UNRWA-run school in Rafah during the 2014 Gaza war, which killed 15 people, highlighting that the case raises “serious questions” about Israeli military conduct in relation to international law.

According to the statement released by UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, on Aug. 3, 2014 during a devastating 51-day military offensive on the besieged Gaza Strip, Israeli forces launched a missile at a road outside of an UNRWA school, which was designated as an emergency shelter for displaced Palestinians on July 18 and was at the time sheltering at least 2,900 Palestinians.

The strike resulted in the killings of 15 civilians, while at least another 30 were injured.

According to the statement, UN officials warned the Israeli military on 33 separate instances that the school was being used to shelter Palestinians who had been displaced by Israeli airstrikes, adding that UN officials had warned Israeli authorities again just one hour before the devastating attack.

“This raises serious questions about the conduct of military operations in relation to obligations under international humanitarian law and respect for the inviolability and sanctity of United Nations premises under international law,” Gunness said in the statement.

Gunness highlighted that the UN has continuously called for accountability of crimes committed by the Israeli military during the 2014 Israeli offensive, adding that “any indication that responsibility was being evaded would be a matter of grave concern.”

“We note that no criminal responsibility seems to be accepted for any concluded cases concerning UNRWA premises,” Gunness continued in the statement. “The families affected have had no effective redress and, from their perspective, this would certainly be seen as a further denial of their rights.”

According to the statement, UNRWA has yet to receive any updates from the Israeli military concerning ongoing criminal investigations into airstrikes on UNRWA emergency shelters in Beit Hanoun and Jabalia that resulted in some 29 civilian deaths.

On Wednesday, the Israeli military announced that 13 criminal investigations into cases of Israeli soldiers committing violations against Palestinian civilians during the 2014 Israeli assault on the besieged Gaza Strip were closed, while some 80 incidents were closed without opening a criminal investigation.

The airstrike near the UNRWA-run school in Rafah was closed without prompting a criminal investigation, as the statement said the Israeli army had observed three alleged Palestinian military operatives riding a motorbike near the school. According to the statement, the Israeli army decided to carry out the strike after conducting “aerial surveillance on the motorbike's path,” while surveying “a wide radius of the estimated continued route of the motorbike, in order to minimize the potential for harm to civilians on the route or in proximity thereto.”

The Israeli army deemed this attack acceptable under Israeli domestic and international law.

According to a report released by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem in May, since the start of the Second Intifada in late 2000, of the 739 complaints filed by B’Tselem regarding Palestinians being killed, injured, used as human shields, or having their property damaged by Israeli forces, roughly 70 percent resulted in an investigation where no action was taken, or in an investigation never being opened.

Only three percent of cases resulted in charges being brought against the soldiers, according to the report.

The 51-day Israeli offensive, termed “Operation Protective Edge” by Israeli authorities, resulted in the killings of 1,462 Palestinian civilians, a third of whom were children, according to the United Nations.

The Gaza Strip has suffered under an Israeli military blockade since 2007, when Hamas became the de facto ruling party in the territory. Residents of Gaza suffer from high unemployment and poverty rates, as well as the consequences of three devastating wars with Israel since 2008.

The UN has warned that the besieged Palestinian territory could become "uninhabitable" by 2020, as its 1.8 million residents remain in dire poverty due to the nearly decade-long Israeli blockade that has crippled the economy.

Residents have continued to experience trauma in their daily lives following the 2014 Israeli offensive, as reconstruction efforts have moved at a glacial pace and with some 75,000 Palestinians still displaced after losing their homes in 2014.
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