UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Israel has paid the United Nations $10.5 million for property damage and injuries the world body suffered during Israel’s attack on Gaza a year ago, a U.N. spokesman and Israeli diplomats said on Friday.
“With this payment, the United Nations has agreed that the financial issues relating to those incidents ... are concluded,” spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters.
A senior Israeli diplomat at the United Nations, who asked not to be named, said, “We have decided to make an ex gratia (without liability) payment to the United Nations and we have indeed done it.”
“It has to do specifically with damages done to the United Nations,” whose Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) cares for Palestinian refugees in Gaza and elsewhere in the Middle East, the diplomat said. He and Nesirky both quoted the figure of $10.5 million.
U.N. officials said the world body had made claims for damage done during previous Israeli military operations, but they believed this was the first time Israel had paid.
A U.N. inquiry last year put the cost of damage to seven U.N. buildings in Gaza during the December 2008-January 2009 conflict at $11.2 million, almost all of it caused by Israeli forces. Loss adjusters hired by the U.N. subsequently reduced that by $750,000, Nesirky said.
The main damage to U.N. property in Gaza came on January 15, 2009, when Israeli shells, some containing the incendiary substance white phosphorus, hit an UNRWA compound, badly damaging a warehouse and training center. Several U.N.-run schools were hit in other strikes.
Israel said it attacked Gaza to end rocket launches by Palestinian Hamas militants into Israel, and that damage to U.N. premises was caused unintentionally when its troops responded to Palestinian fire.
The Jewish state, however, agreed to consider a U.N. reimbursement request sent in July. Nesirky said that claim related both to the property damage and to minor injuries suffered by 11 U.N. employees.
Israel insisted throughout that it bore no legal responsibility, although the United Nations disagreed.
In the end, “the United Nations and Israel agreed to put the question of legal responsibility to one side for the purposes of settling the organization’s claim,” Nesirky said.
The Israeli diplomat said his country was not terming the payment compensation and portrayed the negotiations as having being conducted with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon personally.
“We understand that there have been damages and that the Secretary-General cares about it, and this is important for him, and it’s also important for us what the U.N. is doing in Gaza,” he said.
Israel’s onslaught on Gaza killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, including civilians and Hamas fighters. A total of 13 Israelis were killed.
Editing by Vicki Allen