UN report accuses Israel of recklessness in Gaza

UNITED NATIONS, May 5 (Reuters) - A U.N. inquiry accused Israel on Tuesday of gross negligence and recklessness in attacks on U.N. property in the Gaza strip during fighting between the Jewish state and Palestinian militants in January.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who appointed the four-person inquiry board in February, said he would seek compensation for damage put at more than $11 million but would not follow the panel's call for further investigations.

Israeli officials rejected the report as one-sided, saying it ignored the fact that Israel was fighting a war against a "terrorist" organization -- the militant group Hamas.

Israel's armed forces conducted their own investigation into the conduct of the December-January Gaza campaign and said last month it had found no serious misconduct by troops, who had acted within international law.

Israel launched the campaign to try to halt Palestinian rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled strip. More than 1,000 Palestinians were killed but the sides differ over how many were combatants. Israel lost 10 soldiers and three civilians.

The U.N. inquiry led by Briton Ian Martin, a former head of rights group Amnesty International who later joined the United Nations, investigated nine incidents of damage to U.N. property and faulted Israel in seven of them. It blamed Hamas in one case and could not establish responsibility in another.

In several cases, the report found Israel had "breached the inviolability of United Nations premises," had not respected U.N. immunity and was responsible for deaths and injuries.

In a Jan. 15 incident, the shelling of the Gaza compound of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) with high explosive and white phosphorus, an incendiary substance, "was grossly negligent, amounting to recklessness," it said. Three people were injured.


The panel also found that Israeli forces had failed to meet their responsibilities to protect U.N. personnel and civilians when they fired mortar shells on Jan. 6 that landed near an UNRWA school in Jabalia where Palestinians were sheltering.

Seven people were wounded inside the school, but an estimated 30-40 people were killed nearby.

In these and other incidents, Israel said its forces were responding to Palestinian fire.

But the U.N. report said allegations that militants had fired from within U.N. premises "were untrue, continued to be made after it ought to have been known that they were untrue, and were not adequately withdrawn and publicly regretted."

In 11 recommendations, the panel said the U.N. should seek that acknowledgment and should pursue reparations for damage caused. It also called for an impartial inquiry of alleged violations of international law by Israel in Gaza and by Palestinian militants who rocketed southern Israel.

The panel's report emerged from a 27-page summary sent by Ban to members of the U.N. Security Council and to Israel. Ban said the full 184-page report was being kept secret because information in it could prejudice U.N. security.

In a letter accompanying the summary, Ban said he was "carefully reviewing these recommendations with a view to determining what course of action, if any, I should take." But he said he did not plan any further inquiry.

Ban told a news conference, however: "I intend to seek reparation of loss or damage incurred by the U.N." Apart from losses of some $29,000 caused by Palestinian rocket fire at a U.N. warehouse, the report ascribed all the damage to Israel.

Israel's deputy U.N. ambassador, Daniel Carmon, called the report one-sided and unfair. "We were really shocked to see a report where the board is limiting itself to the facts of the damages only, ignoring the context, ignoring that there is war against terrorism," he told Reuters.

Carmon called the panel's recommendations "unacceptable," but welcomed Ban's letter which he said showed the U.N. chief was "somehow distancing himself from the board's report." (Editing by Cynthia Osterman)