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UN rebukes Israel over Gaza raids

White phosphorous smouldering at a UN compound in Gaza
The inquiry says Israel's use of white phosphorous was reckless in Gaza

A United Nations inquiry into attacks by Israeli forces on UN property during the Gaza conflict four months ago has heavily criticised Israel's army.

It found Israel to blame in six out of nine incidents when death or injury were caused to people sheltering at UN property and UN buildings were damaged.

In one case, Palestinian militants were found to have fired at a UN warehouse.

The Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, rejected the report, saying it was biased.

"We have the most moral army in the world," he said.

"IDF [Israeli Defense Force] commanders and soldiers made every effort to avoid hurting uninvolved civilians."

Ban Ki-moon calls for progress in peace negotiations

He accused Hamas of hiding its fighters among civilians and in the vicinity of UN installations.

The UN report says the Israeli military took "inadequate" precautions to protect UN premises and civilians inside and recommends further investigation into possible war crimes.

One of the incidents highlighted in the document is the firing of artillery shells near a UN-run school in Jabalia where Palestinians were sheltering on 6 January.

The panel says more than 40 people died outside the school - Israel says only 12 were killed, and seven of them were "terror operatives".

The board of inquiry also criticises Israel's use of white phosphorus shells which the UN says caused the incineration of the UN's main food warehouse in Gaza.

Reparations sought

The BBC's Laura Trevelyan at the UN says it is a hard-hitting report which includes heavy criticism of the Israeli military's actions and subsequent explanations and justifications.

UN REPORT'S MAIN FINDINGS
Israeli army responsible in six cases in which UN property was damaged and UN staff and other civilians hurt or killed
No military activity was carried out from within UN premises in any of the incidents
Israeli military's actions "involved varying degrees of negligence or recklessness"
Israeli military took "inadequate" precautions to protect UN premises and civilians inside

The UN board's first recommendation seeks "formal acknowledgment" by Israel that its initial public statement that Palestinians had fired from the school grounds and from within the UN field office compound "were untrue and are regretted".

A later Israeli inquiry said militants had fired from a site about 80m away from the school.

Israel also contends that Hamas militants had positioned themselves near the UN relief agency headquarters.

Another recommendation says the UN should take appropriate action to seek reparation for all deaths and injuries involving its personnel and property.

The report says Israel's actions were in breach of the agreement that UN premises and those sheltering within them should be immune from attack, something which cannot be set aside for military action.

The board says investigating the deaths outside the UN school is outside its remit.

It recommends that this and allegations of war crimes committed in Gaza and southern Israel by Palestinian militants and Israel should be investigated by another inquiry.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has stressed this report is not a legal document.



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