In a statement released Sunday evening, the Israeli army denied that it was responsible for the deaths of some 15 Palestinians in a United Nations Refugee Works Agency (UNRWA) school in the northern Gaza Strip on July 24.
An “inquiry concluded that during the intense fighting between IDF forces and Hamas militants, the militants operated adjacent to the UNRWA school. The militants fired anti-tank missiles at IDF soldiers, who then responded by firing several mortars in their direction,” the army statement said.
“The inquiry… concluded that a single errant mortar landed in the courtyard of the UNRWA school, when it was completely empty.”
“The IDF stresses it does not operate or target international organizations in the Gaza Strip, and the ongoing coordination conducted via the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) is continuous without change, even during times of combat.”
“In light of the inquiry’s findings, the IDF rejects the claims that were made by various officials immediately following the incident, that people were killed in the school premises as a result of IDF operational activity,” the statement concluded.
“During the afternoon a battle took place between Hamas terrorists and IDF forces in the Beit Hanoun area. Besides that, we have indications that rockets fell in the vicinity, fired by Hamas from within Gaza in the Beit Hanoun vicinity,” an IDF spokesman told The Algemeiner on Thursday.
Later that evening, the IDF tweeted that “Last night, we told Red Cross to evacuate civilians from UNRWA’s shelter in Beit Hanoun btw 10 am & 2 pm. UNRWA & Red Cross got the message.”
“Hamas prevented civilians from evacuating the area during the window that we gave them,” they army said in a second tweet, adding that “Today Hamas continued firing from Beit Hanoun. The IDF responded by targeting the source of the fire.”
“Also today, several rockets launched from Gaza toward Israel fell short and hit Beit Hanoun,” the IDF contended in a separate tweet at the time.
UNRWA also acknowledged on Thursday that Hamas fired into the Beit Hanoun area, where the agency’s school was hit, according to Israel’s Channel 2 News.
Last week the Israel Defense Forces said it had counted at least 100 rockets fired by Hamas as striking within Gaza.
Meanwhile, Palestinian and foreign reports at the site described a “scene from a horror movie,” with wounded children being brought for medical treatment while others were seen huddling in building stairwells to avoid further shelling.
Richard Engel of NBC News tweeted: The “Unrwa chief in gaza tells @NBCNews initial assumption is school was hit by #israeli fire.”
ABC News’ Jon Willams said the IDF says it “asked UNRWA to evacuate compound & offered humanitatian ‘window’. UN says IDF refused UNRWA request for ceasfire.”
Williams said United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was “appalled by news of attack on @UNRWA school in #Gaza. Many killed – including women & children, as well as UN staff.”
BBC video Journalist Kelvin Brown noted that “Some of the survivors of the blast at the school in #BeitHanoun have taken shelter in the local hospital.”
An analysis by blogger Elder of Ziyon showed that of the 192 rockets fired last Tuesday by Hamas and counted by the Gaza NGO Safety Office, the IDFsaid 122 rockets struck Israel and 26 were intercepted by the Iron Dome, leaving 44 Hamas rockets striking within Gaza.
The blogger said, “Of course, 44 rockets can do a lot of damage and kill a lot of people. Reporters on the scene in Gaza have yet to talk about this or even admit the possibility that some of the casualties they are highlighting may have been killed quite directly by Hamas or other terror groups.”