Thursday, January 29, 2009

No Israeli fire hit UNRWA school

Remember all the headlines claiming that Israel shelled a UNRWA school in Jabalya earlier this month? Remember how indignant the UNRWA was that Israel would strike at a school whose coordinates were clearly known to the IDF?

Well, it turns out that the school was not hit at all:
Physical evidence and interviews with several eyewitnesses, including a teacher who was in the schoolyard at the time of the shelling, make it clear: While a few people were injured from shrapnel landing inside the white-and-blue-walled UNRWA compound, no one in the compound was killed. The 43 people who died in the incident were all outside, on the street, where all three mortar shells landed.

Stories of one or more shells landing inside the schoolyard were inaccurate.

While the killing of 43 civilians on the street may itself be grounds for investigation, it falls short of the act of shooting into a schoolyard crowded with refuge-seekers.

The teacher who was in the compound at the time of the shelling says he heard three loud blasts, one after the other, then a lot of screaming.

The teacher, who refused to give his name because he said UNRWA had told the staff not to talk to the news media, was adamant: "Inside [the compound] there were 12 injured, but there were no dead."

"Three of my students were killed," he said. "But they were all outside."

The Globe and Mail article goes on to assert that "no witnesses said they saw any gunmen," but of course the AP quoted witnesses who did see a group shooting mortars from the exact spot that Israel struck back:
Two residents of the area who spoke by telephone said they saw a small group of militants firing mortar rounds from a street near the school, the Associated Press reported. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, the AP said. The residents said the two brothers were known to be low-level Hamas militants. They said a group of militants - one of them said four - were firing mortar shells from near the school.
The truth, which was murky at the time, is becoming clearer. Terrorists shot mortars from the middle of a busy street and Israel responded, apparently killing at least two of them, Imad Abu Askhar and Hassan Abu Askhar, along with the unfortunate Gazans who were being used cynically as human shields. The UNRWA school was not hit at all (at the time I wondered why we saw no pictures from inside the school of the damage - no holes in walls or roofs that one would expect.) The "refugees" who were in the school are all alive.

A tragedy, but not at all what Israel was accused of.

(h/t Brad Brzezinski)