UN Report summary: IDF Firing of White Phosphorus at UN Compound was "grossly negligent, amounting to recklessness"

Matthew Lee, journalist accredited at UNHQ/NY, posted on his Inner City Press website this evening the UNSG’s four-page letter and the UN Secretariat’s 28-page summary of the Board of Inquiry report, here.

The report summary clarifies a lot of previously-confused press reporting of a small part of what happened in Gaza during the 22-day IDF Operation Cast Lead.

On the firing of high explosive shells and projectiles containing white-phosphorus-impregnated wedges into the main UNRWA compound in Gaza City on 15 January, the Board of Inquiry apparently concluded that this was “grossly negligent, amounting to recklessness”.

The Board of Inquiry apparently reported that it found the Government of Israel directly responsible for the IDF’s firing of smoke projectiles containing white phosphorus near the UNRWA school in Beit Lahiya starting at 06:40 am on 17 January that resulted in the deaths of two young children, ages 5 and 7, and the serious injury of their mother and cousin (as well as substantial damage to UNRWA property there). This, the Board of Inquiry determined, was “highly negligent and amounted to a reckless disregard for the lives and safety of those sheltering at the school”.

Deaths and injuries were reported at other UNRWA schools, and at one UNRWA health center earlier in the operation. Damage was reported at the compound belonging to the UNSCO in downtown Gaza City after an IAF airstrike on the Presidential guest house directly adjacent, and no warning had been given to the UN.

The Board of Inquiry determined that Israel had not fulfilled its obligation to assure the inviolability of the United Nations premises and property.

It also noted that although the IDF did give certain warnings to civilians in advance of attacks, “the ability of civilians in Gaza to respond to these warnings by moving to safety was greatly limited”.

The Board of Inquiry observed further that “Warnings stated that the IDF ‘will hit and destroy any building or site containing ammunition and weapons’, but in many cases … civilians could not be expected to be aware that particular buildings were in fact used for such purposes or that the IDF might believe them to be so used”.

And, the Board of Inquiry “noted, further, that most warnings did not make any reference to when a particular area would be attacked or were not specific to a location at all, stating simply the intent to ‘act against any movements and elements conducting terrorist activities against the residents of the State of Israel’– and, therefore, “given the blanket non-specific warnings, the widespread attacks in all population centres, and the fact that the civilian population was prevented from leaving the Gaza Strip, civilians increasingly responded to general warnings and ongoing attacks by seeking refuge within UNRWA premises, on the assumption that United Nations premises would be immune from attacks”. In addition, the IDF had told the population of Gaza to move toward the city centres — where the UN installations were located — according to the Board of Inquiry.

Any failures in communication were attributable to the IDF and not to UN personnel in Gaza, the Board of Inquiry stated.

The Board reported that the Gaza Commander of the IDF had confirmed at a meeting with UNRWA officials that the IDF had not found munitions in UNRWA schools.

The Board said it remained “extremely concerned by the initial statements made by the IDF and other spokespersons of the Government of Israel in two cases” — that “Hamas had fired from the main UNRWA compound in Gaza City before it was hit by IDF artillery” fire, and that “the IDF was responding to Hamas mortar fire from withing the UNRWA Jabalia school”. Such accusations should only be made on the basis of certainty, the Board said. It found that these allegations “were untrue, [and] were continued to be made after it ought to have been known that they were untrue, and were not adequately withdrawn and publicly regretted”. The allegation of firing from the UNRWA Jabalia school remained on the website of the Israeli MFA at the time of the writing of its report, the Board of Inquiry stated. The IDF mortar shelling of the UNRWA Jabalia school on 6 January resulted in some 30-40 deaths, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and injury to at least 50 people.

HRW details White Phosphorus attacks by IDF on UNRWA compound and UNRWA school

The most striking detail about the IDF attack with white phosphorus on the main UNRWA compound in Gaza City — the day UNSG BAN Ki-Moon arrived in the region — was how long it lasted.

Some three hours.

During which time, UNRWA staff and officials were making frantic phone calls to various contacts in the IDF, who were unable to quickly bring the attack to a halt.

A former U.S. Army officer now working with UNRWA told the HRW researchers, as they recounted in their just-released report, “Rain of Fire”, on the Israeli use of white phosphorus during the December-January Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, that the IDF seemed “to be ‘walking’ the artillery fire across the area – firing shells along an arc at evenly spaced intervals”.
Continue reading HRW details White Phosphorus attacks by IDF on UNRWA compound and UNRWA school