By George Whitten, BosNewsLife Chief Middle East Correspondent reporting from Israel
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (BosNewsLife) -– The United Nations admitted Thursday, February 5, that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) did not hit a United Nations-run school, correcting its earlier media statements that a massacre occurred within the U.N. education facility.
On January 7, the U.N. Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that “43 people were killed following an attack on an UNRWA school transformed into a refugee site for displaced people.”
For weeks, there was world outrage over what was perceived as a blatant attack on a school.
However, in a field report issued by OCHA and reviewed by BosNewsLife Thursday, February 5, the U.N. said “the shelling, and all of the fatalities, took place outside rather than inside the school.” It still suggested however that dozens of people were killed in the reported Israeli attack.
Yet it appeared a far cry from statements made earlier byJohn Ging, UNRWA’s operations director in Gaza, who accussed Israel of deliberately carrying out a “horrific” attack and suggested Israel knew it was targeting a U.N. facility.
“We have provided the Global Positioning System co-ordinates of every single one of our locations,” he told reporters. “They are clearly marked with U.N. insignia, flags flying, lights shining on the flags at night. It’s very clear that these are United Nations installations.”
The Canadian newspaper Toronto Globe and Mail said earlier that physical evidence and interviews with several eyewitnesses, including a teacher who was in the schoolyard at the time of the shelling, underscored concerns over the U.N.’s initial statement.
While a few people were injured from shrapnel landing inside the white-and-blue-walled UNRWA compound, no one in the compound was killed, the paper concluded.
Israel had always denied it deliberately targeted the school, saying it reacted to fire from militants. It says at least three militants were killed in the attack.
Some of the headlines at the time included “Israel Hits U.N.-Run School in Gaza” (Washington Post), “Massacre of Innocents as UN School is shelled” (Independent UK), and “Israeli Strike Kills Dozens at UN School” (Al Jazeera). At the time, U.N Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called the attacks “totally unacceptable.”
The latest findings were not expected to ease calls by human rights groups into an independent investigation into these and other incidents. Palestinian medics have said that many of the over 1.300 people reportedly killed in the Israeli offensive were civilians, including many women and children. Local Christians have also expressed concerns about the situation, saying they have been in the cross fire, between Israeli and Islamic attacks.
Israel maintains the death toll may be high because Hamas has been using civilians as “human shields.” It also says the military action was in response to the thousands of rockets being fired into Israel from Gaza in recent years.