Middle East

Ban likely to excuse Israel’s attacks on schools

Palestinian children play at a beach of the Mediterranean Sea on the coast of Gaza City on May 28, 2015. AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED ABED

UNITED NATIONS: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is leaning toward not including Israel on an annual list of states responsible for violating children’s rights in armed conflicts, despite proposals to include it, U.N. diplomatic sources said.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has denied pressuring Ban, but several diplomatic sources familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that the Israelis were lobbying his office hard to ensure they were not on the list.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Ban had not made a decision on whether to include Israel in the United Nations report, which is due in the coming weeks.

The report lists countries where serious violations against children’s rights have occurred.

A draft of the report by Ban’s special envoy for children and armed conflict, Leila Zerrougui of Algeria, included the Israeli army for incidents including attacks on schools and hospitals in the Gaza Strip war last year. It also cited reports of violations by the Palestinian group Hamas during the conflict.

A U.N. inquiry published in April said Israeli soldiers had fired on seven U.N. schools during the Gaza war, killing 44 Palestinians who were sheltered at some of the sites, while Palestinian fighters hid weapons and launched attacks from several empty U.N. schools.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed in the conflict, while 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed.

The question of Israeli pressure over the list was first raised in a March 17 article in The Guardian newspaper. After that, the United Nations was leaning toward including Israel but recently reversed course, the diplomatic sources said.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said, “There is absolutely no Israeli pressure on the U.N. secretary-general. The pressure comes from those countries who want to include Israel in the worst possible list.”

“Those countries are motivated by hatred and totally blind to their own failings,” he said. “This is a heinous and hypocritical attempt to besmirch the image of Israel and it is doomed to fail.”

Human rights organizations have given the United Nations arguments for listing the Israeli army and Palestinian groups like Hamas.

Some sources said U.N. officials had indicated to rights groups that the Israeli army and Hamas would most likely be on the list.

“Now, under pressure from Israel, the SG [secretary-general] is leaning toward not heeding the recommendation of Ms. Zerrougui and probably won’t include Israel,” one source said.

Other U.N. diplomatic sources echoed this and spoke of heated discussions among senior officials, with one argument being the Israeli army should not be categorized with groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan.

On April 27, following release of the U.N. inquiry, Human Rights Watch recommended to Ban that Israel and Hamas be listed. The group’s Philippe Bolopion wrote that in their case the U.N.’s “standard of a pattern of violations involving a multiple commission of acts has been met.” He said countries had been listed for less serious violations.

Amnesty International said in a report this week that Hamas had committed war crimes against Palestinian civilians in Gaza during last year’s war with Israel. In a March report, it criticized Israel and accused it of war crimes during the conflict.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 30, 2015, on page 10.

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